Wednesday, June 23

Diplomats from China and Taiwan Scuffle in Fiji

TAIPEI, Taiwan — It was supposed to be a quiet diplomatic event at a stylish beachside hotel in Fiji.

Instead, a reception hosted this month by Taiwan officials in Suva, the capital of Fiji, gave way to a fistfight between officials representing China and Taiwan, in the latest example of rising tensions between the two governments.

Officials in Taipei and Beijing on Monday offered competing accounts of the altercation after reports about the clash spread widely on social media.

They accused each other of initiating the feud and causing injuries. Taiwan said the Chinese government was trying to surveil its staff and guests. Beijing said its officials were carrying out normal duties, and complained that a cake at the event was decorated to look like Taiwan’s flag.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Monday called the actions of the Chinese officials a provocation and said it would work to strengthen security for government workers overseas. In a statement, the ministry said it “strongly condemns the serious violation of the rule of law and civilized norms by the staff of the Chinese Embassy in Fiji.”

The Chinese government disputed that account, saying Taiwan officials had acted “provocatively” and injured one of its diplomats during the scuffle. The Chinese embassy did not explain why its diplomats were at the reception, saying in a statement only that they were “carrying out their official duties” in a public area.

Beijing made clear that it saw the reception as a political threat. While Fiji, an archipelago in the South Pacific, is a longtime ally of Beijing, Taiwan maintains a trade office in Suva and has sought to raise its profile by investing in education and agriculture.

“There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an integral part of China,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday. He called the image on the cake at the event a “fake national flag.”

“Taiwan’s move is intended to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’ internationally,” he said.

Officials in Fiji did not respond to a request for comment.

The incident resurfaced concerns about China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy. China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has stepped up efforts to defend the country’s reputation abroad during the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has badly damaged China’s image.

Beijing has intensified its efforts to block symbols of Taiwan’s soft power and de facto independence, denouncing the island’s flag, or events like the national day celebration as illegitimate.

“Talk about squeezing Taiwan’s international space,” Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey who studies China and Taiwan, said in an interview. “It’s sad to see even a celebratory reception at a hotel in Fiji is declared a space by the Chinese government that cannot have freedom of assembly.”

Amy Chang Chien and Albee Zhang contributed research.

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