A physical clash between Taiwan and Chinese officials at a diplomatic reception in Fiji left the rival powers trading allegations of assault on Monday.

Taipei accused two Chinese officials of gatecrashing an event at the luxurious Grand Pacific Hotel in the Fijian capital Suva on October 8 and assaulting an employee.

Taipei Trade Office Fiji
A celebration of Taiwan’s National Day in the Taipei Trade Office in Fiji in 2019. Photo: Taipei Trade Office in Fiji.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its trade office — the equivalent of an embassy — was hosting a party for 100 distinguished guests to celebrate Taiwan’s National Day.

They claim the two Chinese officials began taking pictures of guests and when asked to leave assaulted an official, putting him in hospital.

“We strongly condemn the actions by the Chinese embassy in Fiji staff for seriously violating the rule of law and civilised code of conduct,” Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

The Chinese embassy in Fiji confirmed its officials were in “public area outside the function venue” on unspecified “official duties” on the day of the incident.

But the Chinese embassy claimed the Taiwanese mission’s staff “acted provocatively” and caused “injuries and damage to one Chinese diplomat”.

In its statement, Taipei said the Chinese diplomats were taken away by the police and “falsely claimed” that they had been attacked.

Both sides said they had asked the Fijian police and other island authorities to investigate. 

A Fiji police spokeswoman told AFP the probe was ongoing and its officers were working on the issue with the Pacific nation’s foreign affairs ministry. She declined to provide further details.

Fiji’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Wolf warrior diplomacy’

China regards democratic Taiwan as a rebel province and has vowed to one day seize the self-ruled island.

The altercation in Fiji comes at a time of high tension between the two sides, with Beijing ramping up diplomatic and military pressure since the 2016 election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Photo: Office of the President of Taiwan, via Flickr.

Tsai hails from a party that sees Taiwan as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of “one China”.

A senior White House official last week urged her government to build up military capabilities to protect against a possible invasion by China, and the tempo of military activity in the area around Taiwan has increased markedly.

Taiwan’s defence depends on US security guarantees, which have been called into question by US President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine and his on-again-off-again affection for Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Wang Ting-yu, a Taiwan lawmaker from the ruling party, said he was “appalled and outraged” by the alleged assault. 

“We can’t let China bully its way into doing whatever it wants,” he tweeted.

Chinese diplomats have in recent years become more aggressive in pursuing Beijing’s interests abroad, a tactic that has been dubbed “wolf warrior diplomacy.”

Tsai Ing-wen
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t, via Flickr.

Beijing has successfully poached seven of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies since 2016, leaving only 15 countries in the world that officially recognise the island. 

Most are small countries in Latin America and the Pacific.

Fiji has long been a staunch China ally and was the first Pacific island nation to forge diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1975.

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