Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fiji's new ambassador to China to promote Fiji

A report in the Fiji Times says that Sir James Ah Koy will be Fiji’s ambassador to China and he has big plans for the country he regards as his fatherland, something he says he has never denied, with Sir James believing Fiji can take its fair share of the 31 million tourists who travel out of China for holidays each year and he also believes, by working closely with the Fiji Visitors Bureau and those involved in the tourism industry, he can woo 620,000 visitors to Fiji if given the right marketing funds.

He spoke to Fiji Times’ Robert Matau about his plans.

Fiji Times:  Why is China a one-stop shop?

Ah Koy:  China is definitely a one-stop shop and advisedly as it is a one- stop shop for many countries of the world.  I read sometime ago that of the number of manufactured items that man use in the world, China makes about 98% of them.

Any manufactured item is available in China. The clothes you wear are made in China, whether sewn here or there, the fabric is made in China.

You just have to look in shops in New Zealand and Australia and you will see that most of the items there are made in China.

So, that is what I am saying.

In terms of tourism, 31 million Chinese are coming out of China, visiting tourist destinations all over the world and if we get 2% of that, we will get 620,000 visitors to come here.

The Fiji Visitors Bureau is looking for 500,000 people from all over the world and we can get 620,000 from China alone.

So I am suggesting that it does not make sense at the moment because of the fractured relationships we have with New Zealand and Australia, to spend our meagre dollars in that market also because of the "talk-down" in visiting Fiji by those two governments.

This targeting of China, coupled with the announcement by the interim Government for an open visa plan for those from China, in other words, Chinese people will not need a visa to come to Fiji now, would be a boon to the tourist segment of our economy.

They can get into Fiji with a legitimate return ticket when they come to Nadi and if they want an extension they can get another two months or if further, they must apply for permanent residence or a work visa under our laws.

Now we are treating the Chinese not as a second class tourist or citizen but respectably as a worthy tourist class similar to Australians, Americans, New Zealanders and others that we do not need a visa from.

They do not need a visa so why do we treat Chinese tourists as second class?

The trouble is we continue to stereotype Chinese as Tongs, drug pushers and people who promote prostitution.

Those come from every part of the world and every country in the world has these problems.

That is why we have a police here and others arms of government and agencies; they are there to deal with that and we should not pre-empt the work of other arms of the Government.

Fiji Times: Do you think there will be problems with immigration?

Ah Koy: There is no more application involved so there will not be any problem for now. When they do come, they will not be beach bums but they will spend money here.

They will be in hotels at Denarau or a beach cottage, they will spend money all the same.

They could go to backpackers but they will bring in dollars that we need badly to drive the economy.

Fiji Times: What emphasis will you be placing on tourism in China?

Ah Koy: I am going to concentrate and emphasise on bringing in Chinese tourists to Fiji and this Wednesday, I will be talking to John Campbell to see if Air Pacific is interested in mounting a direct flight from China to Nadi if we can generate the tourist load.

I will give them the first shot and if they are not interested in having a direct flight from China/Nadi/China, I will look elsewhere.

I am also talking to Korean Airlines which is already flying from Seoul to Nadi three times a week.

I am asking them if they can reconsider the cost of airfares from China/Seoul/Fiji and back.

If we cannot persuade them, we will work thro-ugh other airlines.

We will have to work on getting direct flights to Fiji from China.  We need direct flights to China and back.

The Chinese are going to Australia and New Zealand right now in droves, why not Fiji?

With due respect, Helen Clark is also cultivating and looking to China for expansion of their economy, so why not us?  They are bending backwards to accommodate China.

We have ADS Approved Destination Status which means Chinese tourists do not have to apply for an exit visa. If a country does not have an ADS status, Chinese tourists have to apply for an exit visa from their government to visit that country. Fiji does not have that problem with China.

Fiji Times: Former ambassador Jeremaia Waqanisau spoke about the difficulties in securing the $600m loan from China.  What do you think?

Ah Koy: He is true.  It is only because we do not see the urgency of responding to China with the correct requirements by China to release the loan it is a huge commitment that the Premier made when he came last April. And nobody gives money without setting out documentary requirements to safeguard the loans.

He was saying the Government must guarantee all loans in the private sector. That is true but these are loans the Government will borrow from China at 2% for 20 years over a grace period of five years.

So, the Government will have no problem in guaranteeing the loans.

We can borrow that for all our infrastructural needs. We can build low-cost housing, a new water system to complete by "design, build and complete" program.

A company we had been talking to has just finished a 36-kilometre bridge under the program. It took them four years to do it. Another company is being eyed to build a new slipway. We are shooting for 40% of that $600m which would be $240million for roads, housing for the poor, a new slipway and shipyard of 4000 tons capacity, new water works etc.

Fiji Times: What other benefits do you hope to secure from China?

Ah Koy: My first aim is to bolster our economy and I am targeting 620,000 visitors and the FVB should be going to China as Australia and New Zealand know us and we do not need to focus on them for the time being.  We need to focus on creating a new market here.

These traditional markets know about Fiji, so my job will be persuading hoteliers and FVB to mount a road show in China and I will set that all up.

We will talk to the six or seven economic advanced provinces in China as tourism is a quick- fix solution to our economic woes and it needs to be supported.

We are being shunned by New Zealand and Australia so now we need to cut the umbilical chord with them and look elsewhere.

We have been treated as a pariah by the two countries so it would be wise to look elsewhere.  We did not ask to be treated as a leper.

My other immediate task is to appoint seven honourary consuls in the six coastal economic provinces in China, namely Liaoning, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Shandong, Fujian and Guangdong to be our business agents and market Fiji as a tourism destination.

These provinces have an average of 40-60 million people and China has a population of about 1.35 billion.

The other important industry coming out of China is agriculture.

The Go Farm policy will see us bringing Chinese farmers to plant cash crops that we could sell locally instead of importing from overseas. We cannot even service the demand for cassava and dalo locally so we need farmers who can come in and use the land with the landowners approval.

Above the sugar cane farms in the interior of Viti Levu, there is so much idle land that will be ideal for farming vegetables and other crops. There is a trade imbalance of about half a billion dollars between Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. It is time that we looked elsewhere to stretch our buying dollar for more quality items.

Report by The Mole

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