BEIJING - Solomon Islands’ ambassador to China John Moffat Fugui has died in Beijing, diplomats said on Friday, the fifth top foreign envoy to China to pass away in less than two years. He was 61.
Political pundits said Mr Fugui’s untimely demise is unlikely to adversely impact a five-year bilateral security agreement that has alarmed Australia and the United States.
In a notice published in the Island Sun, Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed Mr Fugui died on Thursday of causes not immediately known.
Mr Fugui is the fifth ambassador to China to die since Ukraine’s Serhii Kamyshev, 65, died in February 2021 after a trip to a Beijing Winter Olympic site.
Germany’s Jan Hecke, 54, a former foreign policy adviser to then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, died in the Chinese capital in September 2021 two weeks into the job.
Philippine journalist-turned-diplomat Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana, 74, died in April 2022 during mandatory quarantine in Anhui province, followed by Myanmar’s chief of mission U Myo Thant Pe in August in Kunming, provincial capital of Yunnan province.
Mr Fugui became Solomon Islands’ first ambassador to China in May 2021 after his country switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in September 2019 under a “one China” policy, ending more than three decades of ties with self-ruled democratic Taiwan.
China and Solomon Islands signed a security pact in April 2022 in a move that raised concerns in Canberra and Washington that it would lead to the Asian giant growing its military presence in the Pacific.
In May, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi sought to allay Western fears during a visit to Honiara, saying China has “no intention at all” to build a military base in the South Pacific island nation.
During his stint, Mr Fugui sought to open direct flights between Honiara, capital of Solomon Islands, and Chinese cities; promote tuna and timber exports to China; attract Chinese investments and tourists; and seek cooperation in solar energy, according to Chinese state media.
Referring to how China lifted more than 770 million rural residents out of abject poverty in the past decade in a September 2022 column in the state-owned China Daily, Mr Fugui wrote: “We will transfer these experiences to the Pacific Islands to help boost our economies and support our peoples’ welfare.”
He added that “China’s own stellar example and remarkable economic growth is more than adequate to learn from” to deal with challenges posed by Covid-19, climate change, poverty and rising unemployment.
Solomon Islands will host the Pacific Games in 2023 and built sporting venues including a main stadium with Chinese assistance after disposing of World War II explosive ordnance on and around the project sites, according to Chinese media.
The project features seven venues: the main stadium, the aquatic centre, the tennis centre, the communal food and beverage centre, the multifunctional hall, the hockey field and training field, and athletes’ dormitories.
China has also helped Solomon Islands in water conservation, sanitation, housing, coconut processing plants and other small-scale livelihood projects.
“After establishing diplomatic relations with China, it is like we are riding on a high-speed train and feel like we are flying ... China is not just a good friend, but a great friend,” Mr Fugui told the Global Times in an interview in September.