Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Greater The Sin, The Greater The Saint- A Waning Crescent Of Forum Influence In The Pacific?

Croz Walsh on the latest Australian election debate regarding the issue of foreign policy initiatives during the Lowy hosted debate; highlighting the litany of promises politicians bring to the discussion, during the season of elections.

The excerpt of Croz's post.
AUSSIE OPPOSITION WOULD open negotiations with Fiji's military ruler Frank Bainimarama for electoral reform as a way of breaking the current diplomatic standoff between Suva. If this means they will respond to Fiji's requests for legal, technical and financial assistance, great; but if they are still talking about dates, what's new?

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said there are three priorities when it comes to Fiji.

(1) "To continue to keep pressure on Fiji both bilaterally and through international institutions like the Commonwealth;"
(2)"We don't want to do things to hurt the people of Fiji, which is why we don't have trade sanctions and bans.
(3) "Thirdly, and most importantly, we do need to continue in conjunction with the international and regional community to find some way of opening up an effective dialogue with the Commodore to return Fiji to democracy." In other world they will continue to pursue the policy that has proved so successful over the past four years.

Meanwhile, Lowy Institute's Jenny Hayward-Jones thinks Australian-Fiji relations have deteriorated. “Other Pacific countries want to talk to Fiji, and Australia and New Zealand are the only ones maintaining this 'don't talk' policy,” she said.

Another Fiji specialist in Lowy, apart from Jones, comes from the "silly mid-wicket" quadrant of Lowy's "experts"- whose latest post reflects the same old "anglosphere" oversimplification, cultural ignorance and gubernatorial over reach.

The excerpt from Fergus Hanson's post:

Fiji and China: Besties?

by Fergus Hanson - 12 August 2010 2:38PM

In today's Age, Dan Flitton reports statements from Fiji's dictator Frank Bainimarama that he wants to ditch ties with Australia and New Zealand in favour of China.

While China tried to make a big splash in Fiji right after the coup, promising to deliver over $US160 million in grants and soft loans, the reality has been a little different.

After the 2006 coup, China came in strong to pre-empt Fiji making a switch to diplomatically recognising Taiwan. It handed Bainimarama US$5 million in cash, leading him to bring control over Chinese aid under his own immediate office.

But since then, China and Taiwan have agreed to an informal d├ętente, ending their damaging diplomatic competition in the region for the time being. China also seems to have felt pressure not to be seen to be lavishing aid on a pariah government.

It has gone ahead with projects like the Nadarivatu hydro project, which had been previously scoped by the World Bank, but it has been slow to disperse the other aid promised.

The Fiji Government might claim this is because of disagreements over use of local labour or some such excuse, but surely it would have been in Bainimarama's interest to see infrastructure projects rolled out on a timely basis so he could at least demonstrate some benefits from his rule?

So is China the saviour that Fiji's strongman has been looking for?

The evidence suggests it isn't. China has been slow to unroll its aid to Fiji and there are reports it has knocked back proposals to do more. A review Mary Fifita and I are undertaking of China's aid pledges to the region in 2009 also suggests the flows to Fiji were minimal.

Frank's just huffing and bluffing.

Hanson's remarks seemed to have missed the large point of contention, which has been successfully underscored by Dev Nadkarni's opinion article. In comparison, the former was a more astute piece of observation as well as, authored from a person with more street cred than, Hanson and the usual suspects from Lowy.

Island Business columnist offers another view point.

The excerpt of Nadkarni article:

VIEWS FROM AUCKLAND

ENGAGING WITH FIJI: ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY LOST


Dev Nadkarni

Despite the unchanging rigidity of their isolationist approach towards Fiji, the political leaderships in Australia and New Zealand would now have all but realised that trying to keep Fiji out of the South Pacific regional equation was never going to be a tenable strategy.
This isolationist tack has come a complete cropper—it has achieved next to nothing. Suspension of bilateral ties, suspension from the Commonwealth, suspension from the Pacific Island Forum, travel bans, adverse travel advisories, besides all sorts of other measures have brought little change, if any, in Fiji.

Reams have been published on the lead up to the December 2006 military action, the regime and its style of functioning since then. And nearly all the ideas from politicians, academics and the media especially in New Zealand and Australia on dealing with the Fiji situation have centered on such isolationist strategies that have come up almost solely with punitive measures.
It is as though engagement can never be an option. That sort of rigidity is hard to explain. Especially so, when the writing was clearly on the wall that the strategy wasn’t working and the situation could not be remedied with that tack. No matter what the situation within Fiji, there ought to have been more efforts from the ANZAC nations to engage with it these past years.
Several windows of opportunity were lost, the latest one being last month.

With no recourse to any regional platform now that it has been suspended from the Pacific Island Forum, Fiji pushed hard for regional engagement through the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG)—the sub regional grouping of Melanesian countries that was to have been held in Fiji last month.
Fiji has alleged that the meet was scuttled by the ANZAC nations to predictable denials from both, as well as Vanuatu, which was supposed to have been prevailed upon not to attend the meet. The decidedly isolationist policy hitherto followed by Australia and New Zealand is what could well give credence to that allegation.

With the MSG meet not happening, Fiji thought up another ploy at engagement and invited regional leaders to the “Engaging with the Pacific” meeting just about a week later. Though several leaders, ministers and government representative attended, Australia, New Zealand – and Samoa – did not. And that was a huge opportunity missed by the Anzac nations.
Among other things, the Fiji regime presented its updated roadmap to the proposed 2014 election. The presence of political leaders from Australia and New Zealand or at least their representatives—no matter how junior—would have been extremely useful in that they would then have had an all new handle to hold the regime to account in the months ahead leading up to the 2014 election and the achievements of the stated milestones.

By not sending representatives and refusing to engage even tentatively at the most tenuous of levels, Australia and New Zealand have chosen to persist with their one pronged, unimaginative isolationist tack of trying to force Fiji into a tight corner with no room to manoeuvre.
Except that in this rapidly globalising world, there aren’t any corners anymore. If the traditional longstanding South has stonewalled it, a huge front from the rapidly growing, increasingly prosperous North has long opened up not only for Fiji but also for almost all other South Pacific nations.

Chinese and Korean investment in Fiji has grown tremendously in the past few years and with every passing month the country is further building up its ties with Asian countries. The ANZAC nations know it only too well that the region’s future—including their own—is tied up with Asia. New Zealand is the first western nation to have signed a Free Trade Agreement with China, which is now not only poised to become its largest trading partner but also wants to buy big into its dairy sector.

Australia and New Zealand’s rigid stand notwithstanding there is no denying that Fiji is the hub of the Pacific and is too significant geopolitically for their simplistic, almost childish, isolationist non-strategy. Their persistence in following this tack beggars belief and exposes their leaderships’ paralysis in trying to come up with more sensitive, open minded and communicative approaches.

The Melanesian brotherhood has realised this. And more than just the warm fraternal ‘wantok’ feeling, it is the hard and practical knowledge that they are sitting on a great deal of mineral wealth both inland and offshore that is at work here.

The potential of that offshore wealth is poised to grow with the redrawing of the continental shelf boundaries following changes to the United Nations Law of the Sea in the coming years.
The countries know that together they stand much to gain—and that explains why its leaders attended Fiji’s hurriedly called engagement gig with such alacrity. That message seems lost on the leadership of the ANZAC nations that has gone on record saying that there will be no change in their Fiji policy.

Fiji’s efforts to engage with the region despite being suspended from the Forum need to be actually seen as a positive step. The ANZAC nations need to set their hurt false pride aside and engage at whatever level—to begin with even informally, outside the ambit of recognised channels out of which Fiji has been excluded in any case.

Nothing can ever be achieved by non-engagement and isolationism especially in modern day geopolitics. Engagement and communication are key to diplomatic conflict resolution—particularly so when one of the parties sends all the right signals that it is game for it.
The flawed assumption that any engagement with the present Fijian dispensation would be illegitimate needs to change because inaction based on such assumption will go nowhere and negate any possibility and hope of addressing the situation.
The events that have taken place so far cannot be reversed and despite the ongoing controversial developments in Fiji, the regime has once again presented its plan for elections in 2014—which, according to media reports have been received positively by the leaders who attended the meet.

Attending that meet would have been a great opportunity to restart dialogue and work with Fiji to work towards an outcome that is best for its people and for the region as a whole.
Fiji should also realise that once it has made an undertaking or promise it must keep its end of the bargain. The writing on the wall is clear. Sticking to their isolationist strategy is not an option and staying rigid will undoubtedly have huge consequences for the geopolitics of the South Pacific region in the years to come.


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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Finest Books On Fiji

Tears in Paradise author: Rajendra Prasad outlines the in-depth, well researched book in an article from Indian Newslink.

The excerpt of India Newslink article:


The bitter saga of a sugar company

01/08/2010 10:39:00
Rajendra Prasad




Ownership change would not dissolve CSR crimes


Australian conglomerate Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) Ltd), sold its sugar making division to the Singapore-based Wilmar International for $2.14 billion, ending its industrial dominance in Australasia.

The deal included CSR’s stake in the New Zealand Sugar Company, owner of the Chelsea brand and Birkenhead refinery. Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board and New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office are likely to accept the offer.


CSR operated its sugar mills in Fiji from 1882 -1973 and thereafter sold its interests to the Fiji Government. Originally, it was both a major grower and miller of sugarcane in Fiji but later divested its interest as a grower and concentrated on milling.

The growing of sugarcane crop rested initially on the shoulders of Indian indentured labourers and later on their descendants. The relationship between CSR and the growers is a horrific story of manipulation, domination and exploitation of people that failed to echo through the pages of history.

A heart-rending tale

The victims were poor, illiterate, ignorant and therefore, gullible. Even the justice system worked against them. I have covered CSR’s cruelties against our forebears extensively in my book, Tears in Paradise. It has melted the hearts of numerous readers, bringing tears to the eyes of even those who consider themselves to be made of sterner stuff.

Immersed in a seven-year research on our painful past, this ignited a stream of anger and anguish that has become part of my life. It is my fervent hope that the present and successive generations will not forget the suffering and sacrifices of our forebears.

Those rich, powerful and dominant, have often manipulated history. India’s first Prime Minister, the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his book, The Discovery of India, grieved that history was almost always written by victors and conquerors and recorded their viewpoint. In the case of Indo-Fijians, their history has been deliberately been concealed and little is known by the descendants of the Girmitiyas.

Human Response

The cries of the Indian indentured laborers resonated across the Pacific and beyond but it failed to invite a humane response from the Commonwealth or other world authorities that consistently preached on human rights, freedom and justice.

Interestingly, it merited a mention in the Australian House of Representatives on September 15, 1911 by Alexander Poynton (1853-1935), who spoke about over-tasking and violence against the Indian indentured laborers in Fiji.

“If they (Indian indentured laborers) do not complete the task set, they are brought before a Court and heavily fined or imprisoned. In 1907, there were 1460 cases of imprisonment and other penalties for non-compliance of tasks. The Hindoos (sic) are treated with utmost severity. The overseers (mostly of Australian origin) even flog women and children,” he said in his speech.

Justice denied

The gravity of the revelation did not move the Australian parliamentarians. No inquiry was requested or instituted, perhaps because any such inquiry would have implicated the Australia-based CSR Company and its Australian employees.

In one incident, Bootan, an indentured laborer, who lost his hand while working for the CSR Company at its Nausori sugar mill failed to get any compensation.

The Attorney General said, a servant injured whilst working for the master’s benefit does not impose any obligation on the master.

One of the most heartbreaking stories is that of Naraini, who had given birth to a child that died on the fourth day. Two days later, she was tasked to break stones on the Sigatoka tramline. Frail and weak from her post-natal condition, she could hardly walk but the Overseer, see her resting, held her by her hair and smashed her face against the stones. Her pleas for mercy, with hands joined together, went unheeded.

In court, hospital attendant Albert Whittaker testified that she arrived at the hospital in a collapsed state, suffering from contusion and injuries. Divisional Medical Officer Dr John Halley also testified, saying that the injuries showed a degree of brutality that “could hardly be conceived by any man in his right senses.”

Despite such credible evidence, the Chief Justice exonerated the accused. Naraini subsequently became insane and was repatriated to India.

View from the top

Even the Governor-General of Fiji Sir Everard im Thurn (1904-1908) was riled.

He said the cases proved again the habitual attitude of many Overseers towards the immigrants under them was brutal.

“Despite this, the courts continued to show favour to perpetrators of horrendous crimes against the indentured laborers in Fiji. One had claimed that they were skinned alive but no one could rescue them. They were the lambs to the slaughter and they bore the CSR and the Colonial Government atrocities with sheepish timidity, shocked, stunned and bewildered at what was meted to them with impunity.”

My grandfather had two whip marks that he took to his grave as emblems of CSR depravity and British injustices during the indenture period in Fiji.

Many of his compatriots suffered similar or even greater tragedy.

These revelations led to an eruption of emotions in me to reveal the saga of the Girmit period and Tears in Paradise was the result.

It is a tragic but an absorbing history that we, as the descendants of our Girmitiyas, have a responsibility to bestow on to successive generations, ensuring that the chain is not broken. Girmit was an atypical feat in human endurance, struggle, suffering and sacrifice and these attributes have become the building blocks for successive generations.

Rajendra Prasad is our columnist and author of Tears in Paradise, which has just entered its Third Edition. The recent sale of CSR prompted the above article.





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