Fiji's new 88-cent banknote
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
88 cents: whoever would have thought?
Last week, on the eighth day of the eighth month, the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF) issued a strange addition to the legal tender of these glorious islands. Strange because an eighty-eight cent bank note may seem unlikely to be one of the FRB's top economic priorities. But all the 8s and an examination of the note itself gives a clue.
Eight is believed to be lucky in Chinese culture, bringing wealth and fortune. The note features an image of the Chinese god of wealth and a money tree, with "Good luck and good fortune. May prosperity be yours" printed at the right. Red and gold, the colours of the note, also symbolise wealth by tradition. The other side has a hibiscus flower, the Fiji coat of arms and the Governor of the Reserve Bank's signature.
The 88-cent note was released to a wave of concern in Fiji that the surprised RBF described as "misinformation and speculation on social media". The central bank issued a clarification statement explaining that the banknote was created to generate sales income targeting the Chinese and wider Asian market, adding that "NO NEW $0.88 numismatic banknotes will be entering into circulation".
"The newly-announced $0.88 numismatic banknote is among the hundreds of non-circulation numismatic currency that the RBF has produced since 1974," the statement said. The note is available for purchase from the RBF for FJ$28 ($18), but as it is numismatic, and so purely for collectors, it will not be in circulation.
The Chinese population of Fiji numbers around 8,000 or one percent of the population. Most are descended from traders who arrived a century ago and married Fijians. There are also more recently arrived Chinese business people who are generally respected. It is not Chinese people but the Chinese communist government that makes many Fijians suspicious. As Biman Prasad, leader of Fiji's National Federation Party, pointed out: "(themed banknotes) are normally produced to mark commemorative events of both national and sometimes international significance. I think the controversy is, what does it signify? What does this commemorate?" (Pacific Beat, ABC radio)
By contrast, when the RBF issued a $7 banknote to mark Fiji's gold-medal in the Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Olympics, the entire population applauded!
A tropical storm in a banknote?
It should have been no surprise to the RBF that the 88-cent note provoked suspicion in Fiji. The image of their beloved Queen Elizabeth replaced by that of a pagan god would be unwelcome enough. However, unease about China's increasing presence and activity is growing in the South Pacific, as readers of my novel Death Beyond the Limit: Fiji Islands Mysteries 3 will know. While Fiji and Papua New Guinea established diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s, Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to mainland China only in 2019. This change has sparked fear and even riots in Honiara (capital of SI) but China has since rewarded Solomon Islands with six agreements including building a new stadium to host the South Pacific Games in 2023 and upgrading more than 30 air strips built by World War 2 US forces, to transform the country into a regional air hub. A leaked 'security pact' rumoured to permit China to build a naval base in Solomon Islands raised alarm throughout the region in April this year. Solomon Islands has shelved the pact for now, but the region will be keeping an eye out for further developments.
PS: a fact often forgotten
Despite China's recent projects in the South Pacific, Australia remains by far the biggest aid donor to the region both for disaster relief and infrastructure and community building.