Wednesday, February 19, 2014

X-Post: The Strategist - Guns and Roses… But No Valentine’s Day Massacre



PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop-2014
 (L)Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama and (R)Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. [Image MoI]


The Valentine’s Day meeting in Suva between Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama proved more of a love-in than a confrontation. Predictions before the meeting suggested that confrontation—at least of interests if not personalities—was the more likely. On the day of the meeting the Lowy Institute predicted it would be Fiji’s last chance, while the Fiji Sun asserted with equal conviction that it was Australia’s last opportunity.

In the event, there was no massacre of hopes as Ms Bishop presented a bouquet of diplomatic roses and Prime Minister Bainimarama graciously accepted.
Reports from Suva suggest that the warmth between the two was more than just theatre for the media cameras. Just where relations go from here will decide how well grounded the rapprochement between the two countries really is.
Perhaps the first point to be made is that virtually all the coverage of the meeting focused on its bilateral significance—with complete justification. Ms Bishop was in Suva as a member of the Pacific Islands Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group on a monitoring visit to review Fiji’s progress toward retuning to parliamentary democracy. However, the significance was always going to be on the quality of the bilateral chemistry between the Fijian Prime Minister and the Australian Foreign Minister.

Fiji’s relationship with the Pacific Islands Forum won’t necessarily be repaired by the bilateral re-engagement, nor will Australia’s role in the regional body return to pre-sanction levels. Prime Minister Bainimarama is currently building a headquarters for a new regional body that excludes Australia and is intended to parallel the PIF.
The regional roles for Fiji and Australia have been forced apart by Fiji’s suspension from the PIF orchestrated by Canberra. Reconvergence is not impossible but it’s unlikely to be fully achieved any time soon. Regional affairs will remain a separate and significant issue for Australia.

The key development from the visit was in opening the door to improved bilateral links. But, while the roses have been accepted, what will it take to ensure there is a second date? Fiji has maintained that nothing matters unless the debilitating affects of the travel sanctions are lifted to enable strengthening of the economy and recruiting appropriate expertise for governance and the public sector.
Ms Bishop has undertaken to continue the review of the travel bans and take this to Cabinet for approval. Subtly this gives Australia time to await further validation of Prime Minister Bainimarama’s commitment to elections by the end of September 2014.

Richard Herr

" Fiji’s relationship with the Pacific Islands Forum won’t necessarily be repaired by the bilateral re-engagement, nor will Australia’s role in the regional body return to pre-sanction levels [...]Fiji has maintained that nothing matters unless the debilitating affects of the travel sanctions are lifted to enable strengthening of the economy and recruiting appropriate expertise for governance and the public sector. "
A significant watershed occurs at the end of February when Commander Bainimarama hangs up his uniform and becomes simply civilian Prime Minister Bainimarama. Not only will Prime Minister Bainimarama will no longer be military commander, the new constitution guarantees that his replacement as Commander will not be in Government either. Thus, this is a very important political act that will break the direct link between the Government of Fiji and the chain of command of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces that has existed since the 2006 coup. This critical step toward a civilianised Government prior to the September elections will be accompanied on March 1st with the long awaited details of the Prime Minister’s newly formed political party.

With those moves toward a civilian and democratic Government continuing in Fiji, Ms Bishop brought to the meet more than just a spray of fresh roses. Guns were on the table as well. The reestablishment of defence attaché arrangements is an essential opening for other proposed developments, which are said to be readmission to the Pacific patrol boat program and a defence co-operation program.

Some of these proposals may be welcomed but sober reflection has already set in Suva regarding the renewal of defence ties. Fiji is said to have already renovated or arranged for the renovation of its current patrol boats and is aware that there are no budgetary provisions for new patrol boats, so any further vessels would be years away. Joint exercises and the restoration staff college training will be welcome but inclusion in broader high level arrangements such as the South Pacific Defence Ministers meeting will also have to be on the cards.

It’s in Australia’s interest to be able to work at the highest policy level with the RFMF on the panoply of regional security issues, including marine resource protection, border protection, and non-state transnational threats.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces recently announced an expansion of its engineer corps by one battalion to cope with higher demand at home with rural development infrastructure as well its overseas commitments. Assistance with equipment and materiel for this expansion will be timely.

Critics might object to the restoration of the defence relationship with Fiji but there’s no chance that other areas of re-engagement will be ignored in favour of the defence cooperation. Nevertheless, Ms Bishop sensibly took the guns as well as the roses on the first date, recognising the importance of an effective relationship with RFMF to assist with a stable transition back to democracy.
It may well prove to be a key to a second date and a third.


Richard Herr is the adjunct professor of Pacific Governance and Diplomacy at the University of Fiji where he is also the honorary director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs.

Editor’s note: the ninth paragraph of this post is an expanded version of the original posting.

Related SiFM post- The Last Foreign Policy Bender

Monday, January 13, 2014

X-Post: Grubsheet - A Melanesian Minefield


Source: Grubsheet


MSG Foreign Ministers with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (front in orange shirt)
MSG Foreign Ministers with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (front in orange shirt)

Foreign Ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group are set to tip-toe through a diplomatic minefield with news that a MSG delegation – led by Fiji’s Ratu Inoke Kubuabola – will make its long-awaited visit to the Indonesian province of West Papua this week.
The mission is fraught with potential difficulty and will require all the diplomatic skills the Ministers can muster as they walk a tightrope between the intense sensitivity of their Indonesian hosts and the equally intense expectations of their Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua.
Ratu Inoke is famed for his own political dexterity – a man who has been able to weather successive upheavals in Fijian politics and still be at the centre of decision-making. So arguably no one is better placed to lead this delegation to West Papua and bring it back without fracturing relationships on either side. The stakes are high and the pitfalls perilous.  It will be one of the toughest assignments Ratu Inoke has ever undertaken, arguably more so than his patient to-ing and fro-ing with the recalcitrant Australians and New Zealanders on behalf of the Bainimarama Government.  Yet, once again, Fiji has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership, judgment and wisdom, not only in our own foreign policy but on behalf of all Melanesians, including the people of West Papua. So our best wishes go with him as he tackles one of the biggest challenges of his diplomatic career.

Put simply, the indigenous people of West Papua regard themselves – quite rightly – as being as Melanesian as their kin across the border in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji – the existing members of the MSG. Yet they now find themselves outnumbered in their own country by the Javanese and other Indonesian ethnic groups that have flooded into West Papua since what was then a Dutch colony was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1961. That invasion took place in highly controversial circumstances and amid an international outcry. It was eventually agreed that the United Nations oversee a plebiscite of the people of West Papua to finally decide their future. They were given two choices – to remain part of Indonesia or to become an independent nation. But while this vote was officially described as “An Act of Free Choice”, it was conducted not by a poll of the entire population but of about 1,000 men selected by the Indonesian military.

This group – described at the time as a consensus of elders – was allegedly coerced into unanimously voting to remain part of Indonesia. And ever since, the result has been rejected by Papuan nationalists, who established what they called the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The OPM ran a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Indonesian administration over the years in which many thousands of people were killed on both sides. And while this has since tapered off, the independence movement has continued, mainly through peaceful protest and a campaign of international lobbying.

The main pro-independence group now is the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation ( WPNCL) – an umbrella group of several bodies – with a leadership largely outside the country – in Vanuatu, the United States and Europe. This group has now made a formal application to join the MSG and in doing so, has given the regional grouping a massive headache. It can’t really say no altogether because it has already admitted the FLNKS, which is not a Melanesian country but the pro-independence movement in New Caledonia, once a French territory and still part of the French Republic, though with a degree of internal autonomy as a “Special Collectivity” of France. The people of New Caledonia are due to be given a vote on full independence from France sometime between now and 2018. But the people of West Papua are in a completely different situation.

Graham Davis

" The tenor of these meetings will be crucial. Neither side wants a showdown over West Papua and both will be working hard to ensure a successful outcome. But it is a challenging prospect indeed to expect the Indonesians to accept West Papua joining the MSG, except as part of the Indonesian Republic, which currently has observer status at the MSG. "
Indonesia regards West Papua as one of its provinces and an integral part of the nation, as integral as Java, Sumatra or anywhere else.  It says it will never countenance independence and fights the notion at every turn, regarding it as a threat to national sovereignty. Part of its sensitivity lies in the humiliating manner in which it was forced to surrender East Timor, which it invaded and took from the Portuguese in 1975, but lost in 1999 after a bloody guerrilla war and a similar United Nations vote, though one carried out properly. In the interim, Indonesia has evolved from a military dictatorship into a robust democracy. Yet the Indonesian military still sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the country’s territorial integrity and cracks down hard on any expression of dissidence or revolt over its hold on West Papua.

For Fiji and the other MSG countries, negotiating a way through this minefield is naturally going to be extremely challenging. Philosophically, they cannot exclude a substantial Melanesian population whose representatives want to join the organisation. But neither can they – nor do they want to -upset or damage the relationship of the MSG countries with Indonesia. That relationship ranges from excellent – in the case of Fiji – to somewhat strained, in the case of Vanuatu, which has close ties to the West Papuan leaders in exile, provides them with a base and has strongly argued their case in global forums such as the United Nations. So in essence, the door has to be kept open to both the Indonesian leadership in Jakarta and the leaders of the West Papuan independence movement, a considerable challenge that now rests at the feet of the MSG Foreign Ministers and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in particular.

At the MSG summit meeting in Noumea last June, the MSG leaders decided to send a delegation led by Ratu Inoke to Indonesia for talks on the membership application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation. It’s taken more than six months of delicate negotiations to organise but finally, Jakarta issued a formal invitation for the mission to proceed. On Tuesday (Jan 11th), Ratu Inoke will begin sitting down in the Indonesian capital flanked by the Foreign Ministers of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, a Special Envoy from Vanuatu and a senior representative of the FLNKS, which is the current chair of the MSG. In a clear sign of how seriously the Indonesians are taking the mission, across the table from them will be the senior leadership – including the President of the Republic, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa.

The tenor of these meetings will be crucial. Neither side wants a showdown over West Papua and both will be working hard to ensure a successful outcome. But it is a challenging prospect indeed to expect the Indonesians to accept West Papua joining the MSG, except as part of the Indonesian Republic, which currently has observer status at the MSG. Can a formula be hammered out for the Province to join as a full member, just as the Kanaks of New Caledonia have full membership but France doesn’t? Would the pro-independence exiles accept this? Can they be brought into the tent to both the satisfaction of Indonesia, themselves and the MSG? These are all imponderables at the present time yet must logically be in the mix if a successful outcome is to be achieved.

After these talks will come the most sensitive part of the visit, when Ratu Inoke and the other Foreign Ministers travel from Jakarta to West Papua itself. Their official program for the two day visit hasn’t been officially released. Yet there’s no doubt that the pro-independence lobby sees the visit as a golden opportunity to press its case. A senior West Papuan activist, Octovianus Mote, was recently in Fiji lobbying on behalf of the WPNCL. He said the Movement was “thrilled” that the MSG Foreign Ministers would be coming to the Province and pledged that thousands of Melanesians would turn out to line the road from the airport to welcome them. Just how the Indonesian security forces will respond remains to be seen. But the record shows that they give short shrift to any public manifestation of Melanesian nationalism and especially the raising of the Free West Papuan flag. Octovianus Mote said this would definitely happen at some stage during the visit.  The MSG Foreign Ministers will be dearly hoping for restraint on both sides.

In his official announcement of the visit, Ratu Inoke appeared to play down the prospects of any dramatic outcome, stressing cooperation with the Indonesian Government and ruling out any prospect of supporting independence for the Province.“We are happy to undertake this important visit at the invitation of the Indonesian Government to be able to assess the application by WPNCL to become a member of the MSG to enable us to present a recommendation to our Leaders,” Ratu Inoke said. “ (But) we fully respect Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and we further recognise that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia. The visit will provide the opportunity to learn firsthand about the situation in West Papua and understand the aspirations of our fellow Melanesian brothers and sisters in Papua with regards to their representation by WPNCL to become a member of the MSG.”

So a softly, softly, vaka malua, approach to this most sensitive of issues – the Foreign Minister and his MSG colleagues desperately hoping their visit passes off without incident and that the whole conundrum can eventually be resolved through patient negotiation and dialogue. From where Fiji sits, it is certainly not the time for rash provocations on the part of the separatist movement, nor a heavy handed, repressive response on the part of the Indonesian security forces. The leitmotif of Fiji’s foreign policy under the Bainimarama Government is to be “friends to all” and that includes both Indonesia and our Melanesian neighbours. Ratu Inoke will certainly be approaching his mission in that spirit and the whole nation will be hoping that he can succeed.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

X-Post: Australia’s Regional Foreign Policy Left Standing In The Shadows Of The Anglosphere




Upon taking government, Australia’s conservative coalition parties, led by Tony Abbott, had a simple foreign policy refrain: more Jakarta, less Geneva.

The previous Labor government had a more ambitious suite of policies on positioning Australia in the Asian century, yet regionalism was still order of the day. Despite the supposed predilection for regionalism and Australia’s unique geopolitical interests, leaked NSA documents on intelligence operations in Indonesia suggest the country is struggling to reconcile historical alliances to the Five Eyes network and the rising ASEAN heavyweights. In short, Australia may still be standing in the shadows of the Anglosphere.

Material leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicates the Australian Defence Signals Directorate attempted to tap the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president’s wife and high-level Indonesian ministers in 2009. Claims have also aired that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service placed listening devices in the Timorese cabinet room in 2004 during deliberations on a proposed oil and gas treaty with the Australian government.

The theatrical diplomatic confrontation that has followed these leaks coincides with a critical juncture in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Indonesian cooperation with the Abbott government’s border protection strategy is operationally essential. Operation Sovereign Borders requires high-level Indonesian cooperation as most asylum seekers transit through Indonesia before making a seaward journey to Australia.

Many of the NSA revelations about Australian intelligence activities are not surprising, nor unexpected to the political elite of Asian Pacific countries. However, the revelations are likely to reinforce the worst stereotypes and popular regional (mis)conceptions of Australian foreign policy. More than ever Australian diplomatic activity will be seen through an unflattering prism of US patronage.

For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment.

For the current Indonesian parliament, political class and press, historical suspicions about Australia’s position on West Papuan independence, disappointment over live cattle embargos and residual political angst at Australian intervention in East Timor have raised to the surface of Indonesian political discourse.

The parties were primed for this exact type of diplomatic conflict after the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referenced the 1962-66 Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, known as Konfrontasi (in which Australian troops fought as part of British forces in Borneo and West Malaysia against Indonesian-supported forces ), when discussing the Liberal Party’s border protection policy and its contravention of Indonesian sovereignty. Those that see the diplomatic spat as nothing more than theatre would argue these elevated suspicions are not that far from the latent, regional perceptions of Australia security and foreign policy.

Scott Hickie

" For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment. "
Considering the status quo perceptions, the NSA revelations could be dismissed as having little substantive consequence – the inevitable price to be paid for a ‘regional sheriff’ keeping frail states and economically weak authoritarian regimes in check and supporting the Anglosphere.

However, the relative power balance across Southeast Asia and the Pacific has changed over the last 10 to 15 years. A notable proportion of fragile and developing states have emerged from negative growth and post conflict environments to improved security situations and increased political stability and have posted almost decade-long continued GDP growth alongside institutional reform.

These unfolding regional economic developments translate to growing political confidence and diplomatic clout for the rising ASEAN powers. The dynamic also underscores greater interdependency between Australia’s future trade interests and security posture – particularly critical on- and off-shore infrastructure in North West Australia.

This point is sometimes lost on Australia’s political class and public who harbour a decade old regional security understanding preoccupied with Australian proximity to fragile states and developing countries beset with political instability. A recent Lowy Institute poll on Australian perceptions of Indonesia shows an almost collective amnesia about any economic or political transformation post-Suharto.

Notwithstanding Australia’s considerable intelligence investment in Indonesia and the large-scale Bali terrorist attack in 2002, the security threats anticipated by the United States and Australia in early post-9/11 have not materialised to the magnitude anticipated and feared. Transboundary Islamic militancy and violent jihadist groups spreading a unified arc of insecurity across southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, primarily threatening Western interests, has not unfolded.

Provincial insurgencies, though in existence, have not toppled governments, triggered systemic, wide-scale human rights abuses demanding a regional/international Responsibility to Protect response or disrupted trade. Over the last decade, and in terms of wide-scale human devastation and insecurity, no event has surpassed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took the lives of 230,000 and left 1.69 million displaced. Yet, the call of the Anglosphere remains strong.

If the degree to which Australia plays the United States’ proxy regional security underwriter can be scaled back, diplomatic space may open for Australia to carve out a more independent regional international relations agenda. While there is significant consistency and similarity between US and Australian foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific, there remains nuanced but critical points of divergence around trade agreements, regional counter-terrorism initiatives, resolution of maritime boundary disputes, aid and human rights agendas in Southeast Asia. Most importantly, it is the emerging security interdependency at a regional scale that requires prioritisation.

One of the challenges for Australia tempering or better calibrating its regional interdependency with historical and so-called ‘civilisational’ allegiances is the optics and perception of Australia repositioning itself within some sort of Asian sphere of influence.

A US Asia-Pacific pivot and China’s increasing economic dominance and military modernisation lures existing and rising regional middle powers to the bipolar corners of the two global hegemons. Stronger Australian links with Indonesia and Malaysia could be miscalculated as Australia being one step away from falling into the Sino fold. Such a miscalculation fails to appreciate the nature of Indonesian/Malaysian and Chinese relations.

Furthermore, evolving security reconfigurations are resulting from some Southeast Asian countries establishing or augmenting security arrangements with the United States to counterbalance Chinese assertiveness around maritime claims. US efforts to build defence cooperation with Vietnam is a case in point. In one sense this may lead to a dilution of the perceived uniqueness of Australian and US defence ties within the region.

It is evident, now more than ever that Australian foreign policy needs to step out of the shadow of the Anglosphere and develop a deeper network of relations in Southeast Asia. This does not mean compromising US defence ties or being co-opted into a Sino sphere of influence. It means Australia can have greater flexibility to address critical regional trade, security and political imperatives with important neighbours.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A War of Words- Fiji and The Pacific Island Forum.



A war of words has erupted between Fiji and The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)over the recent announcement that, Fiji had voluntarily withdrawn from the hastily scheduled PACP meeting in Solomon Islands, 'as a matter of principle'.

PIF General Secretary responded to the allegations leveled by Fiji, in a statement issued by the PIF:
“The Secretariat said that the special meeting of Pacific ACP Trade Ministers and Fisheries Ministers convened in the Solomon Islands was duly notified to Fiji and other countries and freely agreed to and attended by the Pacific ACP States (PACPS). Following the impasse in Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) trade negotiations in Brussels in October 2013, the European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner wrote to the Pacific ACP Lead spokesperson proposing that he could meet with as many Pacific Ministers as possible in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on 12 December.  The Trade Commissioner’s proposal was circulated to all PACPS via an official circular in the normal way.
Until Fiji’s unheralded withdrawal, there was no dissent and not one objection to the Honiara meeting from any PACP country, including Fiji.
The Secretariat clarified that the meeting with the EU Trade Commissioner is not a negotiation session but a special meeting that was convened to clarify issues and to take stock on the status of the EPA negotiations, before formally resuming the negotiations with the EU.”
Fiji repudiated the PIF response in a released statement today:
“Fiji dismisses the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat's ("Secretariat") claim that it has diligently and professionally executed its responsibility in relation to the EPA negations between the Pacific ACP (PACP) and the European Union (EU).

Fiji stands by its earlier statement that the Secretariat has failed in its obligation to carry out the decisions of the PACP member states and has demonstrated a clear lack of transparency and propriety in the manner in which it organised and conducted the special EPA-related meetings in Solomon Islands this week.

After the EU suspended EPA negotiations due to PNG's withdrawal, the core group of PACP ministers agreed in Brussels in October that we needed the opportunity, as a united region, to regroup and strategise on contentious and outstanding issues before continuing discussions with the EU.

The decision for all 14 member states – including PNG – to regroup in Fiji before meeting with the EU Trade Commissioner was deliberate and strategic. It was agreed that PACP leaders and ministers needed the opportunity to provide informed political input into the process, with ample time to properly address a number of challenging issues.

The Secretariat should have focused its efforts on organising this meeting.

However, the Secretariat’s circular makes no mention of the proposed meeting in Fiji with PNG in attendance. Instead, in direct contravention to the ministers’ decision, the Secretariat organised a special meeting between PACP ministers and the EU Trade Commissioner in Solomon Islands with only three days scheduled for preparatory sessions with officials and ministers beforehand.

Contrary to the statement released by the Secretariat to the media, Fiji – a country with one of the biggest stakes in the EPA negotiations – lodged a clear objection to this schedule of meetings in a letter dated the 8th of November to the Tongan Minister for Commerce and Lead PACP Spokesperson, Dr. Viliami Latu, copied to all PACP Ministers and the Secretariat.”

While the PIF response highlighted the attendance with some overly optimistic numbers, “Except for Papua New Guinea and Niue, all PACP countries are represented in the meeting in Honiara. Eleven countries – not six - are in attendance, with 10 Pacific Ministers participating.”

Fiji's counter-argument on the point of attendance:
“As it turned out, Fiji's fears were confirmed and three PACP countries – including PNG – were not in attendance in Solomon Islands and only seven countries (as confirmed yesterday) were represented at the ministerial level: Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Nauru, Palau and Solomon Islands. The Secretariat's statement that there were ten ministers present was because three countries (Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu) were represented by both a trade and fisheries minister.
Fiji maintains that the EPA negotiations need input from the highest level and that the PACP's strength is as a united front.”

PIF's statement appeared to gloss over some legitimate and serious concerns raised by Fiji, with some added abrasiveness:
“The Secretariat said that the suggestion from Fiji that the Secretariat is acting for the EU and that it is putting pressure on the PACP states or dictating directions to PACPS is simply not true, and hardly deserves a serious response.
The Secretariat is the technical advisory body to the EPA regional negotiating machinery, and that the Secretariat has very diligently and professionally executed its responsibility. The Forum Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, responded in the meeting to counter the allegations from Fiji. He said that the Secretariat is a service organisation that is proud of its competence and professional behavior, and that it remains ready to be of assistance to all Pacific island member states.
The Secretariat said that the Fiji walk out from a Ministerial meeting is simply not done, and was an extraordinary display of unwarranted and un-Pacific behavior.”

Fiji piqued by the PIF statement, remained steadfast in its position, outlined its displeasure with the PIF and gave some examples of other nations equally disturbed about the dubious dealings within the PIF, surrounding the accelerated PACP meeting in the Solomon Islands:

“In contrast, it appears that the Secretariat's primary interest is concluding the negotiations at any cost, including making concessions that could have negative impacts on the policy space, sovereignty and development of countries in the region.

Fiji’s objection to this schedule of meetings is also based on the fact that the decision to call them was not the Secretariat’s to make in the first place. The Secretariat should not dictate the nature, scope and agenda of meetings, but should rather seek guidance from PACP states and assist where needed.

The Secretariat is only meant to act as a technical advisory body. In this case, Fiji believes that the Secretariat overstepped its bounds as a technical advisory body and unduly wrested control of the EPA agenda from PACP leaders and ministers.

Promoting and encouraging regional unity has always been at the very centre of Fiji’s position in the EPA negotiations and to be called “un-Pacific” for standing up for the sovereignty and integrity of the PACP is derisory.

Fiji – working side-by-side with its neighbours in the Pacific – will do everything in its power to ensure the best possible future for the region. We will not compromise on our future. We believe that's truly the Pacific way.

In fact, we acknowledge Tonga's immediate support after Fiji withdrew from the Joint Trade and Fisheries Ministers meeting on Tuesday. Furthermore, Tonga questioned the congested agenda proposed by the Secretariat when the region was preparing only for an informal meeting with the Trade Commissioner.”



The relations between Fiji and the PIF has been somewhat testy, ever since Fiji's suspension from the once paramount regional institution in 2009. Fiji's Foreign Minister has made some public statements indicating the Fiji, was not obligated to rejoin the PIF. This recent exchange of words, albeit publicly, is an extension of the animosity brewing behind the scenes and perhaps will not be the last of it.

Monday, December 09, 2013

X-Post: Pacnews - Fiji Withdraws From What It Describes As ‘Rushed’ Trade Talks In Solomon Islands.

Source: Pacnews

Fiji has withdrawn from the Pacific ACP (PACP) meeting in Solomon Islands organised by the Forum Secretariat “as a matter of principle.”
The current meeting, meant to prepare PACP trade ministers for discussions with the European Union (EU) later in the week, was called by the Forum Secretariat before a full meeting of the PACP was allowed to take place, in direct contravention to the path agreed to by the member states. Only 6 of 14 PACP trade ministers were able to attend on such short notice.

In a very strong statement to his fellow PACP trade ministers who were present today, Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Trade Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said PACP countries need to meet without the EU’s presence or pressure from the Forum Secretariat.

“The Pacific Trade Ministers who were present in Brussels [in October] had decided and agreed to meet separately in Fiji, not just for one day but for the necessary period required to resolve and strategise on the issues pertaining to the comprehensive EPA, vis-√†-vis the outstanding and contentious issues,” he said.

The Attorney-General said that such a meeting would also allow PACP states to address the withdrawal of PNG from the negotiations in Brussels, a crucially important issue surrounding the EPA negotiations.

The AG said that by calling “rushed” trade talks with the EU before this meeting was allowed to take place, the Forum Secretariat clearly has not fulfilled its responsibility to action the decisions of the Ministers and the wishes of the member states.

“The Forum Secretariat is not here to act on behalf of the EU and they should not dictate directions to the members but provide technical advice and further our position,” [Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

The Attorney-General told his fellow ministers that the EPA was not something to play with or decide on the trot. “The reality is that the Comprehensive EPA in its current form has enormous ramifications on our policy space, sovereignty and development,” he said.

"It also constraints our ability to deliver basic socio-economic rights to our citizens.  The Fijian Constitution, assented to by the President on 6 September 2013, provides for unprecedented socio-economic rights, including the right to housing, education, health, food and the right to economic participation. We cannot let any trade agreement prevent Fiji from providing these basic necessities to our citizens," [ Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

He stated that only as a united region can the Pacific achieve a better agreement that provides markets and at the same time ensures the sustainability of vital resources for the betterment of all Pacific Islanders.

[Sayed-Khaiyum] urged fellow PACP countries not to be pressured by the EU into finalising a deal or into moving into an agreement that is less than favourable and could have detrimental long term impacts.

“In this regard, we understand the urgency of Solomon Islands, who are perhaps being pushed into acceding to the Interim EPA to secure market access of their precious fisheries resources,” he said.

The Attorney-General said that they had reached a stage in the negotiations where the PACP grouping needs the political will from the highest level.

“The region’s Leaders have been left out of the major developments in the PACP region and the EPA negotiations.  The PACP Leaders need to meet and provide the mandate to us Ministers and Officials on the way in which the EPA needs to be progressed,” [Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

At the meeting today, the AG repeated Fiji’s invitation to host a full PACP meeting at either the Leaders or Ministerial level. He concluded his remarks by saying that Fiji’s decision to withdraw from the meeting does not mean that it is abandoning its regional neighbours.

“We are and have been from the start, a strong advocate of regional solidarity, which, perhaps has been to the chagrin of the Forum Secretariat and our detractors,” [Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

“We are committed to negotiating a Comprehensive EPA, but one that is favourable to all parties, has development at its core and which is for the benefit for all our citizens,” [ Sayed-Khaiyum]said

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Australia's Familarity With Spying, Breeds Contempt Of Its Neighbors. (Updated)

As if Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had enough regional enmity to deal with, subsequent to the Indonesia spying fiasco; Australia has managed to infuriate its relations with East Timor (Timor Leste) stemming from the CMATS negotiations surrounding maritime claims to the resource rich area of the Timor Sea. The Australian treatment of East Timor has much similarities to the unbridled exploitation of the past.

Diego Rivera - Mural of exploitation of Mexico by Spanish conquistadors, Palacio Nacional, Mexico City (1929-1945)
Australia's involvement in the 5 Eyes network has been not without controversy, but  the Australians appear to be stumbling from one diplomatic wrangle to another. Derived from issues much to their own making by the damning actions of Governments of the past, or the insensitive reactions of the present administration, to lame promises about the future. Australia is its own worst enemy.

Timor-Leste spy case: Brandis claims 'ridiculous', says ambassador

Timor-Leste ambassador Abel Guterres said attorney-general's explanation would be rejected by any 'fair-minded Australian'



Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia said his country was “deeply disappointed” Australian intelligence agencies had resorted to raids against the tiny nation’s lawyer and star witness in the international hearing of spying allegations and thought “fair-minded” Australians would reject the explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, as ridiculous.

The Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery, who is representing Timor-Leste in an international arbitration hearing in the Hague, has argued the raids were a deliberate effort by the Australian government to disrupt the proceedings, in which Timor-Leste alleges that in 2004 Australia improperly spied on the Timorese during negotiations on an oil and gas treaty worth billions of dollars in order to extract a commercial benefit.

Timor Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to explain himself and guarantee the safety of the witness – a former senior Australian Security Intelligence Service (Asis) officer allegedly directly involved in the bugging of the Timorese cabinet office during the sensitive negotiations of the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMAT) treaty.

"The actions taken by the Australian government are counterproductive and uncooperative," Mr Gusmao said. "Raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct. It is behaviour that is not worthy of a close friend and neighbour or of a great nation like Australia."
Brandis confirmed he issued the warrants for the Asis raids, but denied they were intended to interfere in the case and said the matter was an issue of national security.
Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia, Abel Guterres, rejected that assertion and said most Australians would also consider it ridiculous.
“Our country, Timor-Leste, which came out of 24 years of struggle and trauma, and the subsequent mayhem in 1999, do you think Timor-Leste could possibly pose a security threat to Australia,” he told Guardian Australia.
George Brandis
The explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, was rejected by Timor-Leste's ambassador.( Photograph: Daniel Munoz/AAP)

“Thousands of people in Australia asked the government to help us [during the violence around the autonomy ballot in 1999] and Australia helped us … are we a security threat to Australia, I don’t think so, I think any fair-minded Australian would see this as ridiculous.”
Brandis rejected the suggestions of interference in the case, telling the Senate on Wednesday these were “wild and injudicious claims”. He said he issued the warrants on national security grounds but declined in his statement to disclose “the specific nature of the security matter concerned”.

“The search warrants were issued, on the advice and at the request of ASIO, to protect Australia’s national security,” Brandis said. He said he had instructed ASIO not to share any material gathered in Tuesday’s raids with Australia’s legal team in the Hague “under any circumstances”. Brandis said Australia respected the arbitral proceedings.

Guterres said Timor-Leste had acted “in good faith” throughout the long dispute over the negotiation, and both parties had agreed to try to resolve the issue through arbitration, “but now the whole thing has turned sour”.

He said Australia’s actions appeared designed to prevent the witness – who was due to fly to the Hague but has now had his passport cancelled – giving verbal evidence, and it was unclear what impact this would have on Timor-Leste’s case.

“It depends how the arbitration sees it if the witness cannot appear in person … but it doesn’t help our case,” he said. “Australia of all places, our ally, our neighbour, our trusted friend, is doing something that is not worthy of being an example.”

Guardian Australia understands Timor-Leste had intended to seek a form of witness protection for the former ASIS officer. The negotiation centred on boundaries to determine how the two countries would share oil and gas deposits under the Timor Sea, called the Greater Sunrise fields, worth tens of billions of dollars. Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, was working closely with the Howard government during the talks.
Timor-Leste alleges Australia inserted bugs in the cabinet room to listen to Timorese negotiators during the talks, under the guise of a refurbishment paid for by an Australian aid program.

Asked about the raids, Abbott said on Wednesday; "We don't interfere in cases, but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld. That's what we're doing.”
The Greens have called for a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence overreach after revelations that Australian intelligence attempted in 2009 to listen in to the mobile phone of the Indonesian president, his wife and their inner circle; and revelations this week that Australian intelligence offered to share metadata about ordinary citizens with foreign intelligence partners in 2008.
ABC news article, reported that the passport of the retired Intelligence officer cum whistle blower has been cancelled,  in an attempt to bully and throw a spanner in the works of East Timor's legal case against Australia in the Hague.
Podcast of ABC audio segment posted below.




WSWS web article provides additional coverage of the fiasco:

Australian government orders ASIO raids to suppress East Timor spying evidence

By Mike Head
4 December 2013
In a blatant attack on fundamental legal and democratic rights, the Abbott government yesterday ordered Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the homes and offices of a lawyer and former intelligence agency whistleblower involved in an international legal challenge to Australia’s spying on the East Timor government during maritime border talks in 2004.

Bernard Collaery, the Canberra lawyer representing East Timor in its case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, said his office was raided just 24 hours after he left Australia to prepare the proceedings. ASIO officers spent hours searching his office, alarming two young female staff members. They seized a personal computer, USB stick, and sensitive files relating to the legal proceedings, including the affidavit of the crucial witness, a retired senior Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) official.

One of Collaery’s shocked assistants told journalists: “They were filming it, explained to me that they were from ASIO and there were AFP officers there too.” The women were shown a substantially blacked-out search warrant, and told they could not even keep a copy, supposedly for “security reasons.”

Collaery said the key witness was also detained and questioned, along with his wife, at their home. Apparently, the ex-ASIS officer was later released, but his passport was confiscated to prevent him from appearing in The Hague.

What, if any, legal grounds exist for these raids and other measures remain entirely unclear, and unspecified. Collaery commented: “I have no way of knowing the legal basis upon which these unprecedented actions [took place].”

Collaery said he had the evidence with him, and the raid would do “very little” to hinder East Timor’s case. “I can’t see what the government hopes to achieve by this aggressive action,” he said. “It can attempt to nullify the whistleblower’s evidence, but that evidence has flown—the evidence is here.”

Personally ordered by Attorney-General George Brandis, the raids are designed not only to block evidence being presented in The Hague of the illegal bugging of East Timor’s government. They send a wider threatening message to the media, the legal profession and potential whistleblowers not to release any further material exposing the intensive surveillance operations conducted by the Australian intelligence apparatus throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
These operations, which include listening posts in the Australian embassies in Dili and other Asia-Pacific capitals, are integral to the global US spying network—now exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden—and the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive “pivot” to Asia to combat China.

Significantly, as the ASIO-AFP raids took place, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was preparing to fly to Indonesia in a bid to mend relations after Snowden’s revelations of US-backed Australian tapping of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone in 2009.
The raids followed further damning revelations, via leaked Snowden documents, of massive surveillance by the Australian intelligence agencies, directed against ordinary people in Australia, as well as people and governments across the region. (See: “Snowden document confirms US-backed mass surveillance in Australia”). They also came amid an intensifying campaign by the Abbott government and the media establishment to denounce the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Guardian Australia web site for publishing the incriminating documents.

Many unanswered questions exist about the raids. Last night, Brandis issued a terse statement declaring that he issued the search warrants to seize documents that “contained intelligence related to security matters.” Without offering any explanation, he simply branded as “wrong” allegations that his actions sought to impede East Timor’s litigation.
Collaery, however, said the raids sought to intimidate anyone else who wanted to come forward against the Australian government. He said the star witness was a former director of all technical operations at ASIS, who decided to blow the whistle because the “immoral and wrong” bugging of the East Timorese government served the interests of major oil and gas companies.

The illegal eavesdropping is now being raised by East Timor to challenge the outcome of the resulting pact, the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty.
In 2004, during negotiations for the treaty, the Australian government, then led by Prime Minister John Howard, economically and politically bullied the East Timorese government of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in order to secure the lion’s share of the vast oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed. It also ordered ASIS operatives to plant listening devices in government and prime ministerial offices in Dili, enabling Canberra to snoop on the East Timorese delegates throughout the talks.

Ultimately, the Howard government forced East Timor to shelve any resolution of a maritime border in the area for 50 years, while dividing oil and gas revenues on a 50-50 basis. The largest project, Greater Sunrise, which lies entirely in East Timor’s waters according to international maritime law, will be exhausted within 50 years, starving the tiny impoverished country of critical revenues.
A major Australian company, Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, worked hand in glove with the Howard government and its foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who was in charge of ASIS. Collaery said the former ASIS official decided to expose the bugging upon learning that Downer, after quitting politics, became an adviser to Woodside.

Collaery said the details in the whistleblower’s affidavit had never been made public, until now. The director-general of ASIS and his deputy “instructed a team of ASIS technicians to travel to East Timor in an elaborate plan, using Australian aid programs relating to the renovation and construction of the cabinet offices in Dili, East Timor, to insert listening devices into the wall,” he said.
The Canberra lawyer accused the government and ASIO of “muzzling the oral evidence of the prime witness.” The spying, he commented, amounted to “insider trading,” for which “people would go to jail,” if it happened in the financial markets.
Members of the former Howard government, including Downer, may have direct personal interests in suppressing this information. However, the geo-political context, bound up with the services provided by Canberra and its spy agencies to Washington, indicates that much more is at stake.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today vehemently defended the ASIO raids, claiming that the government does not interfere in court cases, “but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld—that’s what we’re doing.” Labor’s opposition leader Bill Shorten quickly closed ranks, lining up with the government to defeat a Senate motion asking Brandis to explain the raids.

By invading a lawyer’s office, and persecuting a former ASIS official, the authorities in Canberra are demonstrating that they will stop at nothing to protect the operations of the Australian intelligence services and their US patrons.
East Timor based NGO, La'o Hamutuk has been covering the controversial negotiations between the Australian and East-Timorese Governments and their website has a wealth of background history and information, surrounding the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) Treaty.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

X-Post: Don’t Be A “Bully” - Message To Australia & New Zealand On Trade Talks.

Source: Samoa Observer

by Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a Tauafiafi

Green party MP Jan Logie. CREDIT: REBECCA THOMSON/stuff.co.nz
:
Samoa’s Minister for Trade was talking tough leading in to a trade meeting last Friday between Pacific countries and New Zealand and Australia, in Auckland.

Added to that was Pacific islands spokesperson for the Green Party, Ms Jan Logie calling for Australia and New Zealand to put the interests of the whole Pacific ahead of their domestic interests – and not “bully” their smaller island neighbours.

The trade meeting was the third consultation and update of Non State Actors (N.S.A.) on the proposed Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (P.A.C.E.R.) Plus. It follows the second N.S.A. meeting that was held in Brisbane, Australia in April 2012.

The proposed P.A.C.E.R. Plus agreement aims for greater regional trade integration between Pacific countries and Australia and New Zealand. It is seen as the way to create jobs, drive private sector growth, raise standards of living and improve the Pacific region’s economic development so that it is self-sustaining.
But last week, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, Samoa’s Minister for Trade, and Deputy Prime Minister told media that Samoa is not happy with the way things are going. He wants current barriers on trade to come down more quickly.
Samoa Deputy P.M: Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo.


Specifically he is referring to one of the four priority areas in the proposed P.A.C.E.R. Plus agreement, that of ‘regional labour mobility’. The other three priority areas being: rules of origin, development assistance, and trade facilitation.
Fonotoe wants the current regional seasonal employment scheme (R.S.E.) between New Zealand and Samoa, to also include traineeships and working holiday programmes.
“That’s a bit of the contentious issue from the New Zealand perspective, and Australia, because Australia is also part of P.A.C.E.R. Plus. So those are the issues we are looking at resolving as soon as possible so that could better access the markets in New Zealand and Australia.”

While Ms Logie this week told the New Zealand Pacific, “P.A.C.E.R. Plus is supposed to be a development agreement rather than a free trade agreement but up until now no progress has been made on development assistance. Australia and New Zealand have been saying they’ll deal with funding separately. It’s hard to see how that’s in the best interest of the Pacific.”
She added that latest figures out of the Asian Development Bank “highlight again the need for additional development support for the Pacific to adapt to climate change. New Zealand shamefully took that money out of the existing aid budget. This track record doesn’t bode well for the P.A.C.E.R. Plus.”
“New Zealand has already made a significant investment in negotiating this agreement, we need to make sure that it’s not just another attempt to bully our smaller neighbours.”

Ms Logie’s comments hit at the heart of the matter in this third N.S.A. meeting. In last year’s N.S.A. meeting in Brisbane, there was a fall-out. And it pointed to the lack of funding assistance by Australia and New Zealand to get Pacific N.S.As to provide critical input.

A number of N.S.As leveled heavy criticism about the lack of meaningful discussions and participation by non government organisations. Only one non-government organization was in attendance at the 2012 meeting, Mr Adam Wolfenden, Campaigner for Pacific Network around the region on Globalisation (P.A.N.G.) told the Vanuatu Times back in April 2012.
“The lack of funding available for key groups and no discussion of substantive issues has resulted in a consultation that has lacked critical input,” said Mr Wolfenden.
The key issues that need to be resolved according to him are “adequate funding for effective participation and real discussion about the substantive issues at regional consultations as well as adequate funding and capacity for national consultations.” The concern amongst private sector organisations was the “inability of the diverse voices of non-state actors to be present”.

Added to Mr Wolfenden’s comments were those made by the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (A.F.T.I.N.E.T.). They commented that it is time for Australia to provide the money necessary for the Pacific to hear from N.G.Os. “Whilst we appreciate and welcome Australia’s provision of some funding for the N.S.A. dialogue, this consultation is an example of a job half-done,” Harvey Purse, Trade Justice Campaigner of A.F.T.I.N.E.T. told the Vanuatu Times.

“Australia has always acknowledged the constraints in the region including limited funding for consultations and the involvement of N.S.As. “However, the funding provided by Australia and New Zealand is inadequate. So we've now had a consultation that is not representative of the wide spectrum of views in the Pacific, and failed to include any critical voices. “It can hardly be seen as improving the lives of Pacific peoples when the non government sector, with their diverse expertise and views, have less representation at these key consultations than multi-national corporate interests such as big tobacco (B.A.T.), alcohol (Heineken) and finance (A.N.Z.).”

The Vanuatu report noted that Pacific Island business was well represented with the regional body the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisations (P.I.P.S.O.), several business councils and Chambers of Commerce present. However, largely absent were small and medium enterprises mainly owned by Pacific islanders.

According to the draft agenda of the Auckland meeting this Friday, P.I.P.S.O. will present and discuss the views of their Membership with regard to the nature and depth of consultation desired during P.A.C.E.R. Plus negotiations. They will discuss best practice, and provide examples of ways to strengthen consultations and make them more effective.
The stated main objective of the 2013 meeting is about finding ways for better consultation between N.S.As and national governments in the P.A.C.E.R. Plus process. And to also look at their respective roles in implementing P.A.C.E.R. Plus when it comes into force.

Criticism from 2012 was seen as the litmus test for the 2013 meeting. Will there be more than one N.G.O. in attendance? How much funding was made available for Pacific N.S.A.s to attend? Have there been funding made available for national consultations leading up to these regional meetings?

On the bigger picture, what is P.A.C.E.R. Plus? Who said it is important to the Pacific, and why?
The answer is found at the highest level. In 2009, Pacific Trade Ministers from 13 Pacific countries agreed in Apia, Samoa to negotiate P.A.C.E.R. Plus because they saw the need for a much stronger regional trade integration with Pacific super powers Australia and New Zealand. They felt that by having a trade agreement such as P.A.C.E.R. Plus, it will give them a formalized framework that will benefit each Pacific country through the creation of jobs, drive private sector growth, raise standards of living and improve the region’s sustainable economic development.

Meantime for it to work for each country at different stages of economic development, the structure of P.A.C.E.R. Plus should be flexible enough to allow countries ready to move ahead with negotiations, to do so, while countries who are not, are given more time to prepare.
And to make sure that the voices of all countries are heard, that a true assessment of their different stages of development are accounted for, it is important that a wide and diverse voice from N.S.A.'s is heard.

The process therefore, promotes gradual regional integration in a way that supports the economic development of the 13 party members while taking into account their differences.
Even though the coverage and framework of P.A.C.E.R. Plus have yet to be agreed upon, the priority areas for negotiations have been identified.
In October 2009, in Apia, Samoa, Forum Trade Ministers agreed on the common priority issues:
  • Rules of Origin
  • Regional Labour Mobility (beyond Mode 4)
  • Development Assistance, focusing on physical infrastructure for trade, trade development and promotion; and
  • Trade Facilitation, including Sanitary and Phytosanitary (S.P.S.) Measures,
  • Technical Barriers to Trade (T.B.T.), Standards and Customs Procedures.

And in 2010, Forum Trade Ministers Meeting also noted ‘the fundamental importance of shipping, aviation, telecommunications and water infrastructure to increase trade in goods and services between Member Countries’, and agreed that these were priority negotiating issues for P.A.C.E.R. Plus.

INFORMATION: NON STATE ACTORS (N.S.A.'s)

According to Article 6 of the Cotonou Agreement, non-state actors include:
  • Civil society in all its diversity, according to national characteristics;
  • Economic and social partners, including trade union organisations and;
  • The private sector.
In practice, it means that participation is open to all kind of actors, such as community-based organisations, women's groups, human rights associations, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), religious organizations, farmers' cooperatives, trade unions, universities and research institutes, the media and the private sector.
Also included in this definition are informal groups such as grassroots organizations, informal private sector associations, etc. The private sector, however, is considered only insofar as it is involved in non-profit activities (such as private sector associations, chambers of commerce, and the like).