SUVA, Fiji (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Fiji Friday on a whirlwind visit aimed at strengthening economic and strategic ties with Pacific island nations.
Xi's visit comes after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, head of the world's largest democracy, stopped over in Fiji to also court regional leaders who form one of the largest voting blocs at the United Nations.
Both leaders have targeted the Pacific as a vital stop on their way home from the recent Group of 20 summit in Australia.
Xi, who has already established a rapport with Fiji after visiting four years ago as vice president of China, will hold talks Friday evening with Fiji's 2006 coup leader and recently elected prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama.
On Saturday, he will then meet a delegation of up to eight Pacific island leaders.
"An important agenda of my visit is to invite leaders of all Pacific island countries that have diplomatic ties with China to Fiji for discussions on ways to further grow China's relations with these countries and jointly draw a blueprint for the bright future of our friendly exchanges and mutually beneficial co-operation," Xi said in a statement released ahead of his arrival.
"The friendly exchanges between the people of China and Pacific Island countries date back to a long time ago. We feel a natural kinship with each other."
Countries involved in the talks along with Fiji include Samoa, Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands, and Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, who missed Modi's meeting, described China as a friend of the Pacific island states.
"China believes that all countries are equal members of the international community irrespective of their size, wealth and strength," he said.
Sydney-based foreign policy think tank The Lowy Institute has estimated that from 2005-11 China handed out US$600 million (S$750 million) in so-called "soft loans" to Pacific countries such as Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
Fiji television showed live coverage of Xi's plane landing at Nadi airport, having made the journey from New Zealand, a country with which China agreed to expand its burgeoning trade relationship.
Among 17 new partnerships signed in New Zealand was one between Air New Zealand and Air China which paves the way for a strategic alliance on services between the countries.