Fiji’s Leader Declines Invitation to China, Saying He Tripped and Fell

Fiji’s uneasy relationship with China has hit an unusual roadblock, in the form of an office door.

In a video posted to social media on Tuesday, the Pacific island nation’s prime minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, said he was declining an invitation to visit China this week because he had tripped while looking at his phone, striking his head on a door at the entrance to a government building.

“I do not know whether my head is hurt more than the door, or the door hurt more than my head,” Mr. Rabuka said. He was wearing a shirt flecked with bloodstains, which he pointed out to viewers, and had a bandage on his head.

Because his doctor would have to change the bandage on Friday, he said, “I have had to inform China that I will not be able to undertake the trip coming up tomorrow night.” China had invited Mr. Rabuka to the city of Chengdu, where he was to have met with Xi Jinping, the country’s leader, at the World University Games.

The video has raised eyebrows, not least because Mr. Rabuka, a former coup leader who democratically won power in Fiji’s tumultuous election late last year, has sought to distance his country from Beijing.

A statement on Twitter by China’s Embassy in Fiji, which had announced Mr. Rabuka’s invitation to China, “conveyed the Chinese side’s sincere regards to Hon. Prime Minister Rabuka, wished him a speedy recovery, understood that HPM was unable to visit China” and expressed willingness to issue another invitation to the country.

China has been trying to increase its influence among Pacific island nations, among which Fiji is a powerhouse, with a robust military and an economy that dwarfs those of its neighbors.

But since taking office, Mr. Rabuka has suggested that he might scrap an important policing agreement with China; made gestures toward recognizing Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers a renegade province; and declined to meet with a visiting top Chinese diplomat, Ma Zhaoxu. (On that occasion, Mr. Rabuka said he needed to mourn a family member who had died.)

Last month in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, Mr. Rabuka seemed to hint that Fiji could move still further from China and toward neighbors like Australia and New Zealand, both American allies. “If our systems and our values differ, what cooperation can we get from them?” he said of Beijing.

Military vehicles were deployed in Suva, Fiji, in December after Mr. Rabuka, a former coup leader, won the presidential election.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Rabuka has since backed away from the idea of a rapprochement with Taiwan. But the prospect of a visit to China still came as something of a surprise.

And so when Mr. Rabuka posted his video, speculation swirled.

“It’s a curious accident, so to speak, but very convenient,” Alex Tan, a political scientist at Canterbury University in New Zealand, told a news outlet in that country.

Mr. Rabuka, for his part, seems to have anticipated that not everyone would take his story at face value.

“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of speculations,” he said. “But nothing to worry about.”

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