Thursday, September 01, 2011

Pacific Forum, Fiji & The Moral Zeitgeist.

Pacific Scoop article, highlighted the media "pre-briefing" on this week's Pacific Islands Forum 40th anniversary and high level meeting complete with some new guests and members, Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma. 

Notable inclusions are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the EC President Jose Manuel Borosso, both of whom are earmarked to address the Forum leaders in a dedicated session, to address regional matters of concern to them- as if the re-occurring Middle-East conflicts, the current European Financial calamities are not enough for these distinguished individuals to deal with.

Although, UN Secretary General may use the recent renaming of Asia group to Asia-Pacific, as a good enough excuse to fly to New Zealand and maybe watch the Rugby World Cup, as well as escaping the heat from the leaked report about UN military observers in Libya; EC President may not have the same luxury of escaping from responsibilities of the cascading Eurozone debacle of debt, but may use the aspect of ACP-EU trade negotiations as one; a thorny issue which a recent SiFM post addressed.

Roman Grynberg On Pacific Islands Forum"
For the islands leaders, driven as they are by the immediate political and financial concerns, the Forum communiqué is largely irrelevant.
The main objective of the Forum meeting is to be seen there with the great and the good (and the not-so-good); to go to cocktail parties and avoid aggravating their paymasters in Canberra and Wellington.
As it stands, the Forum summit is hardly even part of the problem, just a reflection of a sad reality where Australia and New Zealand pretend to solve problems and islands leaders pretend to care."

While Fiji has been suspended from the Forum and will not be present at the 42nd meeting in New Zealand, there are already some precursors of contempt and cracks in the regional edifice, reinforced with neo-colonial underpinnings.

First, were recent remarks from a leader of a client state, Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi which appeared in Pacific Islands Report article.

Malielegaoi's abrasive remarks were diluted and rebuffed by comments from Roman Grynberg a former senior Forum official stating that, it was pointless for a forum without Fiji.
"It becomes a patent nonsense, and it becomes obvious once officials in Canberra and Wellington start thinking about it," said Mr Grynberg, who is now based in Africa.
"So until that matter is resolved, I honestly don't see how the forum will be capable of saying very much."
Grynberg had earlier punched holes squarely into sentiments raised by New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key's speech at Auckland University in mid-August, which touted the importance of sustainable development, according to Pacific Scoop.
PINA article published the entirety of Grynberg's views. The excerpt of the Grynberg's opinion article:

Making the Forum accountable and honest

By Online Editor
12:18 pm GMT+12, 09/08/2011, Fiji

PIFS Executive in 2010
By Dr Roman Grynberg for Islands Business Magazine, August 201,

For years journalists would berate me at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for what they saw as the sheer uselessness of the annual leaders meetings and the empty promises they would make each year and then never do anything to implement.

Then one day, one of my many superiors at the Forum Secretariat asked me to review the various communiqués of the leaders’ summits and the results would have been funny if the reality of the yawning gap between what was promised and the facts on the ground were not so wide. The journalists were right!

If the over than 30 years of the Forum’s existence leaders had implemented half the commitments they had made, the Pacific islands would be the best run countries on earth. Alas, in general. neither is true and the commitments are rarely kept.

So why does it happen? The first reason is that the developed countries have an agenda at Forum meetings and they press it as hard as possible.

The agenda in Canberra has too often been negative—the AusAid bureaucrats and low level ministers who run Pacific policy would prefer if the islands just went away and didn’t bother them as they are not, with the possible exception of PNG, an important market or source of raw materials.

But since the Solomon Islands’ civil unrest over a decade ago, the sceptre of failed states with the possibility of hundreds of thousands of refugees has haunted Australian policy thinking.

Australia’s wealth is now linked inextricably to Asia and the islands are not even a small part of the formula. So at the Forum meeting, Australian officials are deeply concerned with governance, both political and economic, and the communiqué reflects their concerns.

For the islands leaders, driven as they are by the immediate political and financial concerns, the Forum communiqué is largely irrelevant.

The main objective of the Forum meeting is to be seen there with the great and the good (and the not-so-good); to go to cocktail parties and avoid aggravating their paymasters in Canberra and Wellington.

In the final analysis, the islands leaders know perfectly well that no-one at home is watching and no-one will ever bring them to book for not implementing their Forum promises.

After all, there is no election or accountability at a regional level and who in the islands actually reads the promises in any case?

On top of all that where the commitments do theoretically matter, the leaders always have the perfect defence that there was never the money from Canberra and Wellington to implement those commitments.

The last time I was at the Forum meeting in 2009, I made one of those moves you know will be part of a ‘career breaker’ and I tried to do something about this deplorable situation. I went to the executive and asked to call a staff meeting to see whether there was any way the Forum leaders could be made more accountable.

Reluctantly, those above me agreed and we called a general meeting on how we could better assure implementation. While most of the staff are good people, utterly committed to the islands as a whole, the executive was quietly aghast and either never saw or cared about the problem of implementation.

I had proposed two measures I felt were central to making the leaders’ summit and its communiqué a document of some meaning to the lives of the people of the South Pacific.

These suggestions included an independent and public review mechanism, perhaps every few years, to see how each country was actually implementing what it had promised and secondly, that there be a budget presented within 90 days of the Leader’s summit itemizing the actual cost of implementing the promises made and who was going to pay i.e. Canberra and Wellington.

These two measures would deflate the hubris of our leaders and make Canberra and Wellington think more than twice before getting Pacific islands leaders to make commitments which would have to be covered by real dollars.

My staff at the Forum politely laughed at me and said they would not waste their time preparing papers on a subject they knew the sycophants would never allow to leave the Forum gates. They were right of course and the matter died an unnatural death.

In September leaders will meet in Auckland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the region’s paramount political institution. The Australians and New Zealanders will celebrate their continued dominance and unquestioned role as paymasters and hence scriptwriters for the region’s political agenda.

The islands leaders who will attend the Forum meeting have never paid heed to the concerns of the founding fathers of the Forum who in the early 1970s considered that including Australia and New Zealand would produce exactly these sorts of lamentable results. Just like the current generation, money and power got in the way of common sense and the right of free men to express their views.

At Auckland, the Forum leaders will celebrate their existence, make lofty promises yet again and waste another opportunity to be part of the solution to region’s growing list of problems.

As it stands, the Forum summit is hardly even part of the problem, just a reflection of a sad reality where Australia and New Zealand pretend to solve problems and islands leaders pretend to care.....PNS (ENDS)

• These are the personal views of Dr Grynberg who until 2009 was the Director of Economic Governance at the Forum Secretariat until he was removed.

Island Business article outlined that Fiji was using its back channels, calling for the current Forum chair, Neori Slade (also from Samoa) to step down, and be replaced with suitable candidate from Melanesia.

Fiji's parallel engagement of island leaders summit is starkly different in terms of the attendees and agendas. However, the high stakes aspect of these competing summits and geopolitical outcomes, is an entangled web of diplomatic and cultural relationships, which cannot be over stated.

Two outstanding articles that used Wikileaks cables undergirds a systematic pattern, orchestrated largely by Canberra and by connivance, Wellington.

WikiLeaks cables reveal Australian government divisions over Fijian junta

By Patrick O’Connor
1 September 2011
US diplomatic cables recently published by WikiLeaks have revealed sharp tactical divisions within the Australian Labor government over the Fijian military regime. In 2009, amid rising fears that China was gaining strategic ground in the region, Labor’s parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island affairs, Duncan Kerr, secretly urged Washington to pressure Prime Minister Kevin Rudd into abandoning his “hardline” stance and reaching an accommodation with the junta.

The cable describing the discussion between Kerr and US diplomatic officials, titled “Australia rethinking its Fiji policy”, was sent from Canberra on August 14, 2009 by the American ambassador to Australia, Daniel Clune. Classified “NOFORN” (not releasable to foreign nationals), it was sent to the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, US embassies throughout the South Pacific as well as in Paris, and the US Pacific Command in Hawaii.

Under a subheading, “Diplomatic dead-end?” the cable reported: “With Fiji’s suspension from the PIF [Pacific Islands Forum] and imminent suspension from the Commonwealth, Kerr expressed concern that Australia will have ‘exhausted’ its diplomatic arsenal with no clear next step. He questioned the utility of gradually reducing engagement with Fiji, and appeared supportive of an idea by the GOA’s [government of Australia] High Commissioner in Fiji to conduct ‘a surprise gesture of goodwill’ towards the military regime.”

Under another subheading, “Searching for a way out,” the cable reported Kerr’s advice that junta leader Frank Bainimarama “cannot give up power as he would end up at the mercy of his enemies,” and that “the international community should find a safe way for him to step down.” Kerr warned that Bainimarama could be ousted by “less senior officers [who] are getting the taste of being in power”, and emphatically concluded that the junta leader will “either be shot or we’ll have to do business with him”.

After noting that “a decision to change course must ultimately come from Prime Minister Rudd”, Kerr “encouraged US ideas on how to address Fiji”. He urged Washington to “ask us the obvious questions” about what happens if Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth produces no results. In the cable, Ambassador Clune then commented: “Kerr’s request for the US to ask ‘the obvious questions’ appears to be an attempt to spur re-evaluation of Australia’s Fiji policy. It seems that the GOA is on cruise control toward increasing disengagement with Fiji, without achieving any desired effect.”

The extraordinary episode underscores the extent of the longstanding crisis confronting the Australian government in the South Pacific—and the cynicism of Canberra’s claims that it supports “democracy” in Fiji.

In December 2006, the Fijian military seized power in a coup. A US diplomatic cable sent shortly afterwards confirmed that then Australian prime minister John Howard considered a military intervention, but decided that an invasion was “not in Australia’s national interest”. The cable added that Howard “could not countenance Australian and Fijian troops fighting one another on the streets of Suva”. The Australian and New Zealand governments instead imposed diplomatic sanctions and moved to isolate Fiji internationally as a means of forcing a return to civilian rule.

Canberra and Wellington were never concerned for the democratic rights of ordinary Fijians. They instead feared that the coup would trigger political instability across the South Pacific, undermining their economic and strategic interests, and, above all, opening the door for China to gain ground. A US cable sent from Canberra in January 2008, noted that “Rudd is especially concerned with Chinese influence in the Pacific and sees Australian leverage ebbing thanks to massive Chinese aid flows.”

By 2009 it was clear to everyone that the sanctions regime was not advancing US-Australian interests. Bainimarama defied Canberra’s diktats and deepened ties with Beijing, receiving significant Chinese financial, diplomatic, and military support.

The Chinese government contemptuously dismissed Australia’s entreaties to toe the line on Fiji. US cables previously published by WikiLeaks revealed a highly unusual diplomatic incident in February 2009, when Beijing lied to Canberra about a visit to Fiji by Vice President Xi Jinping that involved the announcement of major new aid and investment projects (see “WikiLeaks cables reveal Chinese vice president’s secret visit to Fiji, in defiance of Australia”).

The affair clearly raised alarm bells both in Canberra and Washington. A rift within the Australian foreign policy establishment was evident with the publication in April 2009 of a report by the government-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think-tank that urged a rapprochement with Bainimarama. ASPI warned that sanctions had “pushed Fiji away from its traditional friends to others, notably China”. The latest round of WikiLeaks’ published cables now make clear that these tactical divisions extended right into Rudd’s cabinet.

Immediately after the 2006 coup in Suva, the US made clear to Australia that it would not sacrifice its independent interests in relation to Fiji. Canberra wanted Fijian soldiers barred from UN peacekeeping operations, to remove a lucrative source of income for the military and place greater pressure on the coup leaders. Washington refused to countenance this, because Fijian soldiers played a useful role in assisting its imperialist operations in the Middle East.

A US cable sent from Canberra on the day of the coup in Fiji described the issue of peacekeepers as a “US redline”. A US State Department official instructed Australian and New Zealand officials that there could be no “rush to remove Fiji’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations, noting the importance of Fiji to UN peacekeeping operations in Baghdad and elsewhere”. Another cable explained: “we are looking for steps that put pressure on Fiji but are not detrimental to larger US interests.”

The leaked cables have revealed that in September 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Fiji’s UN representative to a meeting of Pacific Island officials in New York during a UN General Assembly summit. One cable refers to “Australian and New Zealand concerns” about the initiative, but the Fijian government apparently declined the invitation. Australian National Security Advisor Duncan Lewis told the US embassy in Canberra that the failure to accept Clinton’s invitation was a “blunder” on Fiji’s part, adding that he was not surprised that Bainimarama had “missed another opportunity”.

One year later, in September 2010, another US invitation was extended and this time accepted, with Fiji’s foreign affairs minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola speaking with Clinton and other Pacific leaders in an hour-long meeting in New York. Clinton told Kubuabola that the US wanted “dialogue and partnership with Fiji”, and the State Department subsequently indicated that they accepted Bainimarama’s proposed “road map” for elections in 2014.

This marked an apparent breach between Australia and the US on a key policy issue in the South Pacific. Recently, however, the US appears to have shifted back to support for sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Last June, a State Department delegation conducted a week-long tour of the western Pacific, but excluded Fiji. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell denied any differences with Canberra on their approach towards the junta.

The various diplomatic shifts no doubt reflect continued behind-the-scenes discussions between the Australian and American governments over how to forge a pliant administration in Fiji and sideline Beijing.

The ruthlessness of these calculations clearly emerges in the US cables that describe Australian moves to instigate an economic crisis in Fiji without causing a complete collapse that could backfire on Canberra.

In August 2009, Kerr told US officials: “We’ve made a cabinet-level decision that we don’t want to see Fiji move to a social and economic collapse.” The cable continued: “He [Kerr] said that Australia would be responsible for picking up a failed state, at a cost much higher than the GOA’s intervention in the Solomon Islands.” Another cable sent from Canberra in October 2009 reported: “Australia supports International Monetary Fund (IMF) engagement (with tough conditionality) sooner rather than later ‘when the inevitable fall comes’, so that people and processes are already in place to pick up the pieces.”

Earlier in 2009, according to one US cable, New Zealand’s foreign minister Murray McCully privately indicated that “perhaps things need to get much worse in Fiji before Fijians themselves decide to create the circumstances under which the international community can help things improve”.

What is apparent throughout these cables is the callous disregard for the plight of ordinary Fijian people as the US, Australia and New Zealand all manoeuvre to protect their economic and strategic interests in the South Pacific against rival China.

The end result of these protracted neo-colonial bullying in the Pacific region, is examined by Susan Merrell, which was published in Solomon Star.

Sex, lies and diplomatic cables; Wikileaks, SI and the Moti Affair

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With the leaking of embarrassing diplomatic cables, Susan Merrell asks whose best interests are really served by the continuing deployment of RAMSI in the Solomon Islands?

  They say there’s no such thing as objectivity, even in journalism – one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

Language is revealing.  No more so than in the recently released Wikileaks cables from the US Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea which must be proving to be a source of great embarrassment. 
The cables display a profound disrespect and contempt for the Solomon Islands’ government. 
The intemperate language suggests disdain.

Robert Fitts, the US Ambassador is the authorand, as there is no diplomatic US mission in Honiara, it is reasonable to assume that the US is using their ‘deputy in the Pacific’ – Australia as their source.

One cable, dated 22 September 2006, deals with the political situation in the Solomon Islands at that time. It was sent to Washington, Canberra, Wellington and Honolulu.

Under section headings “AN ODIOUS A/G [Moti]”, “AN ERRATIC PM [Sogavare] “BIRDS OF A FEATHER” and “AN UNPREDICTABLE PARLIAMENT”,the diplomatic cable slanders many prominent members of Solomon Islands’ political society including the then Prime Minister and members of his cabinet.

The arguably libellous accusations stand as justification for the writer to canvass ways to influence the then upcoming vote of ‘no confidence’ against the Prime Minister while maintaining an official position of not interfering in the political affairs of a sovereign nation.

Many of the assertions in the cable are, at best, widely inaccurate, suffering from egregious omissions - the assertions coming from a jaundiced and self-interested viewpoint.  At worst, there are lies and distortions of the truth.

The cable fires its first bullet at Julian Moti.

It’s widely known that Moti who had been appointed attorney general of the Solomon Islands just days before this cable was written has been fighting charges of child-sex tourism in the Australian courts since his arrest in Brisbane 2007. 

There’s a plethora of evidence that this charge was to remove Moti from political influence. With the release of this cable it has become even more evident.

The cable uses increasingly pejorative adjectives to describe Moti saying: “In a region strewn with dubious characters, Moti is particularly odious.” 

On what do they base this?The cable makes four accusations in support.

Firstly Fitt accuses Moti of, “In 1994 […] pressing the then Governor General to bring down a government which was trying to assert control over Malaysian/Chinese logging companies which had retained Moti.” 
Whereas, the truth of the matter is that Moti only ever once represented a logging company and this was in an industrial dispute. In this matter, he appeared with Dr Gavan Griffith, former Solicitor-general of Australia.

Moti’s position was, in fact, anti-logging, not pro-logging as the cable suggests and in this, he often found himself at odds with his political allies. 
In a sworn affidavit dated March 27, 2009 he states: “Notwithstanding my friendship with many leaders of the […] Government, I did disagree with a number of policy decisions made by the Government in relation to logging…” The year in question was 1995.

Secondly, referring to the charges of the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997, the cable says, “he [Moti] beat the rap” on a technicality, as if that was illegal or immoral while the cable studiously ignores the questionable actions of the prosecution in their desperation to have Moti removed from political influence in the Solomon Islands.
And questionable they have been. In a statement made on video three days before his death Mr Ariipaea Salmon, the father of Moti’s alleged victim slammed the “mighty Australian government’ for using his daughter to “take over a country [The Solomon Islands]”.

The Australian authorities were not deterred from prosecution even knowing that in 1997/1998 the alleged victim had lied in a sworn statement.

They even went as far as to obtain an indemnity against charges of perjury. Ariipaea Salmon claims that the family were coerced into co-operating with the Australian prosecution and their testimony coached.

Furthermore, as I write, the High Court of Australia is considering whether to grant Moti a permanent stay of prosecution because of an alleged abuse of process that had Australian authorities “conniving and colluding” in his illegal deportation in 2007.

Justice Heydon, one of seven judges hearing the appeal of former Attorney General Julian Moti, conceded that although Moti’s 2007 illegal deportation from the Solomon Islands was a decision of the Solomon Islands’ government, Australia failed to fulfil its mandated role (under RAMSI).
“We [Australia] went to the Solomon Islands in order to restore the rule of law,” he said. “What happened on 27 December [the illegal deportation] did not involve the Australian Government participating in a process of restoring the rule of law.”

As for the cable’s assertion that subsequent to the Vanuatu court case Moti was “…made unwelcome in Vanuatu.” 

This is simply wrong as Moti retained property interests in Vanuatu where the sometime lessee was the Vanuatu government. 

In an affidavit sworn by Moti on 3 June 2009, Moti speaks of visiting Vanuatu as late as March 2006 and meeting with two government ministers and other political affiliates. 

This scenario does not suggest Moti was “unwelcome”- in fact, quite the opposite.

Thirdly, the writer notes Moti’s nationalistic and anti Australian political stance, calling Moti “resentful”.

 The underlying assumption of the whole cable is that anything that is anti-Australian/RAMSI is wrong because the interests of the Solomon Islands should be subjugated to those of Australia/America.

Lastly, the cable expresses the fear that Moti’s first task would be to defend the two politicians, Charles Dausebea and Nelson Ne’e that were then in jail charged with inciting the riots that had their roots in the elections earlier that year. 

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that both were acquitted of the charges when witnesses, paid by the prosecution to testify, failed to appear in court.

It was in the best interests of Australia/America to compromise Dausebea as according to the cable Dausebea was the only Solomon Islands’ politician that would take on RAMSI “head on.”

Moreover, in another Wikileaked cable of 20 April 2006, the same Robert Fitts writes “Some 180 Australian troops and police arrived in Honiara April 19.  Resident Americans tell us that troops did not deploy to the areas affected until the late hour and general exhaustion had quieted the havoc.”  Why didn’t they?

There were unsubstantiated rumours at the time that RAMSI deliberately let the riots happen.
 Certainly, the riots justified Australia sending even more troops to the Solomon Islands which was pure serendipity considering that yet another wikileaked cable from the same source dated 27 April 2006 contained a note saying: “…members of the most likely new government are indicating that it might reverse a number of Solomon Islands foreign policies, switch recognition from Taiwan to Beijing for example.”
 Their intelligence was correct and it explains much.  Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands would have been the worst-case scenario for Australian/American interests and it was under consideration by this government.

The cable’s next salvo is reserved for Manasseh Sogavare, then Prime Minister and the Solomon Islands’ parliament.

In this section no punches are pulled as it spells out what it believes to be the corrupt nature of Sogavare and how his political manoeuvrings, especially the push to negate RAMSI’s influence, had been designed to perpetuate that corruption.
The cable describes Sogavare as a “con” it calls his initiatives “loopy” and says that: “his [Sogavare’s] government earned a reputation for casual corruption that was notable even by Solomons standards.”

In the most disrespectful of language the cable describes the Solomon Islands cabinet as “odd ducks.”It says that although Foreign Minister, Paterson Oti talks responsibly, he, in practice, “…waddles along the same as the PM.”

The cable states the belief that the only reason that the Solomon Islands parliament wants to loosen its ties with RAMSI is in order to perpetuate corruption – to “…regain the freedom of the cookie jar…” 

Then ominously, the cable goes on to say that it’s “Time to speak”.

And why was it time to speak?  It was because the US wanted to influence the outcome of the upcoming vote of no confidence against the Sogavare government – to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign nation.
The endgame of these diplomatic maneuvers have been pointed out by an earlier SiFM post: "Islanders With A Dragon Tattoo" and a 2009 article written by Dev Nadkarni, published in India Weekender.

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