Friday, August 31, 2012

Hillary Clinton In Cook Islands.

Video of Clinton's arrival in Rarotonga (posted below).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

X-Post: The Strategist- The Dragon In Our Backyard: The Strategic Consequences of China’s Increased Presence in the South Pacific.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s decision to attend the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in the Cook Islands this week signals the growing strategic importance of the South Pacific. Clinton’s attendance may also be a response to China’s increasing presence in the region. The consequences of China’s advance in our immediate neighbourhood are most significant for Australia, which is facing a situation where it may, for the first time in more than 70 years, find itself with a power with interests not necessary aligned to its own in its backyard.

China has been active in the South Pacific for four decades, mostly driven by its competition with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition. Although a truce (of sorts) has held for the last few years, China and Taiwan have engaged in ‘chequebook diplomacy’ to win the favour of South Pacific states. While this competition remains important, China now appears to have strategic interests in demonstrating its ability to project global power via its increasing influence in the region. And, regardless of their small size, each independent South Pacific state has a vote in international organisations, which China can seek to persuade them to use in pursuit of its interests.

China’s efforts to penetrate the South Pacific were given a boost after Australia and New Zealand’s attempt to isolate the Fijian regime after the 2006 coup. The Fijian regime responded by adopting an explicit ‘look north’ policy and sought a closer relationship with China, which other regional states have followed. After Australia and New Zealand supported Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, the Fijian regime focused its attention on the Melanesian Spearhead Group, from which Australia and New Zealand are excluded. China seized this opportunity to gain influence, sponsoring the creation of the Group’s Secretariat, and building its headquarters in Vanuatu.

China’s most significant strategic interest in the South Pacific is military access, the most important aspect of which is signals intelligence monitoring. For example, China built a satellite tracking station in Kiribati in 1997, although it was subsequently dismantled after Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. The Chinese fishing fleet operating out of Fiji is also said to provide cover for signals intelligence monitoring, particularly of United States’ bases in Micronesia. China is also seeking naval access to the region’s ports and exclusive economic zones, engages in military assistance programs, and is negotiating access to facilities for maintenance and resupply purposes.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, has said that: ‘China’s increased presence in the Pacific is fundamentally welcomed by Australia’. However, China’s growing military presence may pose several risks to Australia. As China becomes a more assertive international actor it could respond militarily if members of the Chinese diaspora are threatened, as they were during the riots in Solomon Islands and Tonga in 2006 (PDF). Questions then arise about what would happen if Australia also responded to such an eventuality: would the Chinese and Australians cooperate? Or could the situation lead to a stand-off?

The most serious risk is that Australia’s near neighbours could come to owe allegiance to a power with interests that do not necessarily align with those of Australia. Indeed, the 2009 Defence White Paper noted that Australia has a strategic interest in ensuring that Indonesia and South Pacific states ‘are not a source of threat to Australia, and that no major military power that could challenge our control of the air and sea approaches to Australia, has access to bases in our neighbourhood from which to project force against us’. Given the extensive nature of Chinese involvement, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine such a scenario.

The vulnerability of Australia to a major power establishing a foothold in the region was graphically illustrated during World War II, when the Japanese managed to penetrate as far as Papua New Guinea.
Australia (often in cooperation with New Zealand and the United States) has belatedly responded to China’s increased presence in the South Pacific. Australia has increased its diplomacy in the region, on top of its already extensive aid, military, policing and governance assistance.

Most positively, Australia announced in July that it is restoring full diplomatic relations with Fiji, and easing sanctions it imposed on the military regime. Given the strategic issues at stake, it is vital that Australia continues to devote its energies to this issue in similarly positive ways.

Joanne Wallis is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where she also convenes the Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Security program.

Source: The Strategist

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Apppear- The Relevance Of Pacific Islands Forum To Fiji.

The 43rd Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Cook Islands has been hyped as a much anticipated affair, not so much about the agenda, but more so about the invited guests-some with a higher profile than others. In a press briefing, PIF General Secretary, Neori Slade, admonished the journalists covering the PIF: “So if you can concentrate without getting too hyper on personalities (like US secretary of state Hillary Clinton) I think we’ll appreciate it.” 

Slade also mentioned that ,the journalists should not be sidetracked about the major powers attending the Forum and adroitly maneuvered the conversation to the prepared talking points of the PIF agenda. An important consideration, is that, the major power players attending the PIF did not travel thousands of miles to the Cook Islands, to chat about the dangers of climate change or just to exchange diplomatic niceties.
It is about furthering their own interests and maintaining their spheres of influence. Steven Ratuva, a Pacific affairs specialist at Auckland University, expressed his opinion with Pacific Scoop  regarding the current affairs: " [T]he US was trying to establish dominance in the Forum this year was because China had a strong foothold with the MSG, a powerful body in terms of its political power within the Forum, particularly through funding of infrastructure and supporting MSG operations.”

Graham Davis latest posting on Grubsheet, illustrated the undulated diplomatic landscape:
Hilary Clinton, who is making the first visit to a Forum summit by a US Secretary of State. Clinton knows that Fiji is too big to be ignored, too strategically important to be sidelined and that it’s high time its isolation was ended. This is almost certain to be the last time Bainimarama is excluded as America works this week to persuade its ANZUS partners, in particular, to bring him in from the cold.
There is no doubt that, the intransigent policies from Canberra and Wellington in isolating Fiji has resoundingly failed, and under girded their own shortcomings. Ratuva added: “[I]n spite of being suspended from the Forum, Fiji has some cards falling its way[...]Instead of weakening Fiji’s position, the suspension is actually strengthening it.”

Unquestionably, Fiji's suspension from PIF has opened up alternative channels of diplomatic exchanges, that invariably makes the PIF inextricably, obsolete. In an opinion piece in the The AustralianMichael O'Keefe, addressed the challenges to the PIF: "[The Pacific Islands Forum] will either forge a new path for the region's pre-eminent institution or give ground to the alternative architecture that has grown since Fiji's suspension from participation."

Fiji Hosts 3rd Engaging the Pacific Meeting -Pacific SIDS (video posted below)

Ratuva addressed the benefits of the 'free agent' status of Fiji's diplomacy: “[...]Fiji can do anything, it can mobilise its ‘alternative forum’ outside the Forum, and it has also strengthened the Melanesian Spearhead Group, because now the MSG is keeping tightly close as a group because they came around through Fiji’s support.”

Davis points out the waning relevance of the PIF:
Clinton knows that the Pacific Forum is a shadow of its former self so long as Fiji is excluded. Why? Because no Pacific plan of action can realistically be implemented without the country’s participation. It is too significant and too influential to be bypassed. It has also successfully defied all attempts by its bigger southern neighbours -Australia and NZ – to bring it to heel and has demonstrated a nimble dexterity to find support wherever it can.

O'Keefe added to the narrative of failed policies of isolating Fiji:
The rise of alternative forms of regionalism is a direct result of Fiji's suspension and poses the largest challenge to Australia[...]Fiji has made new friends and opened up new avenues of co-operation and as Australia chooses to re-engage it will be operating in a vastly different Pacific seascape. In this climate the continuing relevance of the PIF will need to be demonstrated rather than simply asserted. Fiji is not likely to accept the status quo and may need to be encouraged to resume its engagement with PIF.
Among Fiji's alternative diplomatic engagements, is their attendance to the Non-Alignment -Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran; currently in session.

Analysis of NAM group. (video posted below)

This 120 member group of countries, include notable members of the BRICS, have come of age and are quietly overshadowing the Western bloc of countries, in terms of influence in shaping World affairs. NAM accounts for 14% of the World's GDP. There are three NAM Pacific island nations: Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, who are also members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

NAM policies are diametrically opposite to that of the ANZUS alliance, with respect to Non-Interference. Australia and New Zealand's role in Pax-Americana have eroded any perception of being a honest broker in the Pacific region. Notwithstanding, the tainted colonial history of the Trans-Tasman cousins, further compounds this .

This diplomatic coalescing of MSG and NAM principles in Pacific affairs, would represent a significant threat to the interests and influence of the Trans-Tasman countries in the region. There appears to be a similar situation of failed isolation policies affecting both Fiji and Iran. In both cases, Western aligned countries have attempted to isolate them.
In both cases, each have been recently elected to chair the important nation groups-MSG and NAM respectively. The policies and its architects, have since demonstrably been rejected. Without a doubt, these series of diplomatic Faux Pas in the Western Alliance, underscores their demise of influence. In discussions with Metropolitan neighbors and the Island diplomats, the stakes in the Pacific are simply undermentioned; but the leverage the Islanders wield are widely understood.


Fars News: Iran to establish diplomatic ties with Fiji.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Perspectives On Asia-Pacific Geopolitics.

The Asia-Pacific region is covered by a recent podcast by Corbett report who interviews nascent blogger Broc West.
Podcast (posted below)
Radio Australia article interviews former Chinese ambassador to Australia and Washington, Zhou Wenzhong, stating that Australia's stance on the US deployment in the Asia Pacific could be better explained.
 Podcast (posted below)

Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) interview. Michael Horowitz talks about his recent National Bureau of Asian Research piece entitled “How Defense Austerity Will Test U.S. Strategy in Asia."
Podcast (posted below)

Related SiFM posts:

Monday, August 20, 2012

X-Post: SAAG - Western Pacific No Longer Pacific

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations

Western Pacific as the Western half of the Pacific Ocean has never been free of major powers rivalry ever since the end of World War II. The Cold War in Europe got extended to the Western Pacific which witnessed the United States and the Former Soviet Union locked in a military tussle.

During Cold War I the United States put into place a dual strategy for the forward defence of Mainland USA, far deep into the Western Pacific. It comprised a spider-web of bilateral security alliances with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Philippines providing for US security guarantees against any Communist threat from the USSR and China. Secondly, the United States entered into agreements with these nations, excepting Taiwan, for hosting Forward Military Presence of US Forces in their territories.

This US security architecture has held firm ever since then despite the disintegration of the USSR and the fading away of the Russian threat. Only the Philippines as part of its China hedging strategy had withdrawn the facility of United States using its naval and air force bases.

In the decade when the USSR was in the last throes of disintegration, China had made significant economic progress by kind courtesy of US and Japanese foreign direct investments. In the Post -Cold War I Phase, China with a burgeoning economy had carried out rapid military modernization and up- gradation with aspirations to emerge as the dominant power in the region of the Western Pacific.
The China Threat was therefore in the making in the 1990s and fully manifested itself in the decade of the2000s. China in the pursuit of its great power aspirations had unleashed unabashedly in the second decade of the 21st Century, what can be termed as Cold War II comprising designation of Taiwan, Tibet, Xingjian and the South China Sea as China’s ‘Core Interests” meriting China going to war to protect its “Core Interests”. Military aggressiveness, armed interventions and gunboat strategies started emerging from China.

Obviously, the United States with entrenched strategic and security interests in the Western Pacific could no longer be a passive spectator The China Threat manifesting itself in multiple forms to its security and to those of its Allies in the Western Pacific who shouldered and hosted the US security architecture in this vital region.

The security environment emerging in the Western Pacific has both regional and global military implications. This also has regional and global economic implications when one remembers that the global shift of economic power to Asia has primarily arisen from China and Japan.

With the above in mind, this Paper would like to focus on the following related issues:

  • Western Pacific: The Strategic Significance for the United States and China
  • Western Pacific: Notable Features of the Security Environment in 2013
  • Western Pacific Does Not Lend itself to Conflict Resolution
  • Future Perspectives on Western Pacific Security Environment
Western Pacific: The Strategic Significance for the United States and China
The strategic significance of the Western Pacific for the United States and China lies in the geographical configuration whose notable features are as under:
  • The Western Pacific rests on the East Asia littoral comprising Russia, China and Vietnam.
  • Parallel to the East Asia littoral the Western Pacific run a strategic islands chain extending from the Korean Peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago.
  • This island chain virtually hems in the East Asia littoral and comprises Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. Each of these also having sovereignty over outlying small islands which are now disputed by China.
  • The Western Pacific comprises a number of seas. Starting from the North these are the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and the South China Sea. Moving a bit westwards is the Sea of Japan
The strategic significance for the United States of this geographical configuration of the Western Pacific emerges from the following military considerations:
  • The United States is provided both an outer perimeter of defence of Mainland United States and a springboard in close proximity to China for a military intervention.
  • With a combination of geographical proximity to Mainland China and the military deployments of United States and its Allies, this permits a virtual hemming-in of China in military terms.
  • In this island chain configuration only a few corridors exist for the Chinese Navy to breakout into the wider Pacific Ocean.

To breakout of such a military gridlock China’s primary strategic priority should have been to sow doubts on US reliability as a security guarantor of the countries of the Western Pacific which in turn could unravel the US security architecture. China succeeded temporarily in this direction in case of South Korea and Philippines.

More significantly are the Chinese claims to islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea. This is not only determined by hydrocarbon reserves but also by the military factor that these disputed islands in China’s possession would provide China bases for deployment of its military assets as part of its area denial and anti-access strategies against US naval and air power intervention.

Such disputed islands which virtually lie astride vital sea lanes of commerce to Japan and South Korea and Western United States could be strangulated by China by deployment of long range anti-ship missiles on these disputed islands.
Western Pacific: Notable Features of the Security Environment in 2013
The Western Pacific in 2013 seems to resemble the Cold War I security environment. The only difference being that the USSR stands replaced by China as the major threat to Western Pacific security and stability.

Further, unlike the USSR in Cold War I, which was set in a strategic tussle with only the United States at the global level, China’s strategic tussle in Cold War II manifests itself both at the global level in terms of seeking parity with the United States and at the regional level with Japan , Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.
In 2013 in military terms, China by its own aggressive and posturing has generated security disquiet in all Western Pacific countries and generating a palpable ‘China Threat” perception.

The first decade of the 21st Century witnessed The China Threat assuming dangerous contours due to US military distractions in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving China to advance unrestrained in its military expansion.

Sensing the strategic concerns generated by China in the Asia Pacific, the United States made a riposte in the nature of the Obama Doctrine incorporating a US ‘strategic pivot’ to Asia Pacific and ‘rebalancing’ of US military postures in Western Pacific.

In 2013, the security environment in Western Pacific seems to be marked by the following:

  • China’s military aggressiveness and assertiveness becoming noticeably marked in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries and with Japan in the East China Sea.
  • Chinese military brinkmanship is touching dangerous levels and adding to flashpoints in the Western Pacific
  • More than 30% of the colossal Chinese Defence Budget is now being devoted to build-up of Chinese naval power and force-projection assets.
  • North Korea as China’s military protégé and proxy for disruptive activities in the Western Pacific is not being restrained by China
  • Countries in the region can be said to be engaged in military acquisitions and modernisation as a consequence of the above.
  • Japan as the pee competitor of China is now actively engaged in rebalancing its defence postures, including amending its Peace Constitution.
  • The United States has gone in for a Southward realignment of its military deployments permitting better response times against any Chinese armed conflict in the South China Sea.
  • Philippines is reconsidering opening the old US bases in its territory for US reactivation
  • Reports also suggest that Vietnam may offer the Cam Ranh naval base to the United States.

In overall terms, such feverish military or military related activities suggest that the Western Pacific security environment in 2013 is fast emerging as one pregnant with explosive possibilities. 

Western Pacific Does Not Lend itself to Conflict Resolution
The Western Pacific very much like Central Europe in Cold War I seems headed towards congealed lines of confrontation, though this time it is more in the maritime domain.
Western Pacific military confrontations are operating at two separate planes. The first is the overall strategic tussle between the United States and China. China as the revisionist power would gamble on brinkmanship to achieve its national aspirations to be counted as a strategic co-equal of USA. 

The second level is of the United States as the status-quo power sustaining its existing security architecture in the Western Pacific and now reinforcing and rebalancing it. Basically it would involve that the United States stands by its security guarantees to its Allies in the region against any armed conflict ensuing from China on their territorial disputes. This would also include the commitment of a US nuclear umbrella, in the event of a ‘China Threat’ emanating.

In the first case, there is no ideological conflict or even any territorial dispute. It is out and out power struggle which brooks no conflict resolution initiatives. Can China as part of any conflict resolution initiative be advised to give up its global aspirations? Can the United Sates be asked that it should now cede strategic space in the Western Pacific to accommodate China's global aspirations? The answer in both cases is ‘no’.

In the second case too where US allies or its new strategic partners and friends are involved in territorial disputes with China, the latter is not receptive to any conflict resolution. China resorts to a subterfuge that any dialogue on disputes can only be bilateral in nature. Inherent in any conflict resolution initiatives is the involvement of mediators/regional organisations/multi-party mechanisms, a fact that China is not willing to concede. On both counts therefore the Western Pacific does not lend itself to any conflict resolution.
Future Perspectives on Western Pacific Security Environment

In terms of perspectives, the Western Pacific security environment offers no scope for optimism. On the contrary, unless there is slow-down or breakdown in the growth of Chinese economy, China’s expanding military profile both conventional and nuclear can be expected to grow.

China’s resort to political and military brinkmanship is unlikely to cease in the coming decades. Chinese nationalism is at an all-time high and is likely to grow as the Chinese regime stokes nationalism to divert attention from China’s growing domestic unrest and problems.

As China’s military brinkmanship intensifies on territorial disputes, there is an increasing likelihood of a US military intervention especially in the case where Japan is involved. The US secretary of State and the US Defense Secretary have publicly asserted to that effect.

While China can be expected to step back from an all-out armed conflict involving the United States, the reality that is likely to persist is that a Cold War template will persist in the future in the Western Pacific.

Also what needs to be noted that in terms of military perspectives any future conflict in the Western Pacific would primarily be maritime in nature to begin with. Hence the current race in the Western Pacific amongst all protagonists for build-up of naval warfare capabilities and submarines. 

Concluding Observations

In the Western Pacific intersect most intensely the strategic interests and power tussle between the United States and China. Also intersecting within this overall framework are the regional power rivalries between China and Japan and between China and Vietnam and the Philippines on the South China Sea islands disputes.

Increasingly, the United States would tend to get drawn in regional disputes between US Allies and friends with China. The United States would not be allowed the luxury of ‘strategic detachment’ from the prevailing Western Pacific security environment. It would then run the risk of witnessing the unravelling of its security architecture in the region

The United States will ultimately have to resort a containment strategy against China in the Western Pacific.
Source: SAAG

 ( Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

US, China Aim to Boost Pacific Influence

Source: Australia Network News-Newsline
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have divided ASEAN and caused friction between China and the United States.But that's not the only place in the Asia-Pacific where the world's two biggest powers are competing for influence.

Later this month Pacific Island leaders will hold their annual forum in the Cook Islands.Both the US and China are sending powerful delegations and, for the first time, an American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend. Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney reports. (Video posted below)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

X-Post: The National - US ‘Invasion’ Of The Pacific

In the days of the Cold War, the Pacific firmly belonged to the United States’ Pacific Fleet. The Pacific consisted, in the minds of US military strategists as a theatre, a wide expanse of ocean with a sprinkling of islands and dreamy islanders in grass skirts swaying on white sandy beaches like the coconut palms to the strum of ukuleles. Simplistic, perhaps, but that is how the islander felt he was being treated. If the US needed to dump highly toxic nuclear waste or test nuclear weaponry, or even transport nuclear arsenal through the region, it did not feel anybody deserved the courtesy of being informed.

The ANZUS Treaty collapsed as a direct result of this arrogant stance by the US. But times are a-changing. US influence in the region, while still very influential, is being challenged both militarily and economically by the rising might of China and India. What does it all mean for little nations in the South Pacific like Papua New Guinea? The first thing really is to wake up to the fact that this geopolitical game is being played. So far it has been behind in these considerations, perhaps because quality and up to date advice at that global and regional level has not been going to government or if it has then it has been ignored. Either way such ignorance or neglect is very costly as we shall see.

This country does not have a comprehensive national security policy which would take into account regional and global socio-economic-political-security realities and their implications on the nation. A national security policy would tell Papua New Guinean politicians that the Ramu nickel/cobalt mine does not need to enjoy a 10-year tax holiday and other concessions running into tens of millions of kina that have been given away at tremendous future cost to this nation. This mine is not merely a financial economic investment. It is also an extension of Chinese geo-political interests in the region.

...The first thing really is to wake up to the fact that this geopolitical game is being played...
It has the blessing of the Chinese government. The benefits, while huge to PNG, are negligible to China but, through the company, that country has gained a foothold here. Likewise, the massive investment by ExxonMobil, the US petroleum giant, in the PNG liquefied natural gas project. It too has received concessions which will in time appear as if our leaders have robbed the cradle, it has given away the wealth of future generations. The US government has more than a passing interest in this project if the lead role played by the US credit agency in the financing of the project is any indication. It too would have happened and did not need the concessions.

Progressively, the people and governments in the region are coming more and more into focus as both China and the United States compete for strategic influence and control. The US is moving its Okinawa military base to Guam. The United States has stepped up its commitment to work with its Pacific Island partners with the second visit to the region by the US assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt M. Campbell, and the Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Cecil Haney, with an interagency delegation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will, for the first time, attend a South Pacific Forum annual meet in the Cook Islands later this month.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced in Singapore last weekend that by 2020, the greater part of the American naval forces – including six aircraft carrier battle groups as well as a majority of the navy’s cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat ships and submarines – will be stationed in the Asia-Pacific. Following a visit to PNG, Australia and New Zealand by the Chinese vice-premier last year, Clinton did exactly the same. China seeks, it appears, nothing less than an historic shift in the Asia-Pacific balance of power.

For a long time it has been contained in the confines of its territorial boundaries but with increasing economic might, the temptation is natural to break the strangle hold the might US Pacific Fleet has enjoyed in this region since World War II. It will want to break out and protect the sea lanes of South China and South East Asian seas. Last year alone, almost US$6 trillion in trade was plied along the sea routes off South Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam, while half of all global trade passed through the Indian Ocean.

A crisis in either body of water would affect the entire world economy. PNG might not contribute to a crisis were that to occur but it stands to gain by being conscious of what goes on in the wider world rather than be inward looking all the time.

 Source: The National

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Saturday, August 04, 2012

X-Post: WSWS - Australia Normalises Relations With Fiji.

By Patrick O’Connor
4 August 2012
Australia has re-established full diplomatic ties with Fiji and dropped most of the sanctions that were imposed against the military regime after the 2006 coup. The Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard is seeking to counter China’s growing diplomatic influence in Fiji and the South Pacific region.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr met with Fiji’s foreign minister Inoke Kubuabola in Sydney last Monday. Carr then announced that travel restrictions on government members and their families would be reassessed on a “case by case basis” and the two countries would exchange high commissioners. Carr later explained that only serving members of the military in the government would remain potentially subject to the travel ban.

Patrick O’Connor

" The Australian government’s rapprochement with the regime underscores that it has never been concerned about the democratic rights of the Fijian people. "
Australia’s last senior diplomat in Fiji was expelled in November 2009. Carr described his meeting with Kubuabola as “a very good one, a very constructive one that looked to the future.” He said the normalisation of diplomatic relations represented “a token of the progress that has been made” toward holding elections in Fiji.

Military leader Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s self-appointed prime minister, has outlined plans to hold a vote in 2014. Previously, the Australian government condemned these election proposals, but Carr this week hailed “the commitment the interim government in Fiji has made to the process of constitutional consultation [and] the work that’s taken place towards a constitution, their work on the electoral rolls, their work towards an election in 2014.”

The abrupt about-face has nothing to do with any change in the situation in Fiji. The military regime continues to violate the democratic rights of the Fijian population and has foreshadowed that it will continue to intervene in the country’s political affairs after the 2014 election. There have been several reports that the military plans to remain in power by forming a political party modelled on the Golkar party of former Indonesian dictator Suharto.

Bainimarama appears to be targeting his rivals ahead of any election. Laisenia Qarase, who was deposed as prime minister in 2006, was yesterday imprisoned on corruption charges dating back to the early 1990s. Qarase’s conviction, on charges that his lawyers insist were politically motivated, means that he cannot contest the election. Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, another former prime minister, also faces the prospect of being barred from standing. He has been prosecuted for violating foreign exchange laws by allegedly holding party donations in Australian bank accounts.

The Australian government’s rapprochement with the regime underscores that it has never been concerned about the democratic rights of the Fijian people.
The initial imposition of sanctions, like the latest diplomatic initiative, was driven by strategic calculations. Canberra did not want the 2006 coup to trigger wider political instability in the South Pacific that could undermine its strategic dominance in the region and open the door for rival powers to gain ground.
Patrick O’Connor

"The timing of the sudden reversal may be due to pressure from Washington. Secretary of State Clinton is reportedly planning to attend the Pacific Islands Forum annual meeting later this month in the Cook Islands."
But the “hardline” stance backfired—the sanctions and diplomatic censures failed to force the military from power, while encouraging the regime to look to other countries for support, above all China. Defying the Australian government’s pleas not to support the regime, Beijing stepped up its aid and investment in Fiji, and also developed close ties between the Chinese and Fijian armed forces.

By 2010, the US State Department regarded this as an untenable situation. The Obama administration had announced a strategic “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, launching diplomatic and military initiatives to counter China’s growing influence and maintain the dominant position that US imperialism has enjoyed throughout the region since World War II. Washington’s shift included normalising relations with authoritarian governments, such as in Burma, which had previously been subjected to sanctions but are now embraced as part of the drive to strategically encircle China.

In September 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Fijian foreign minister and declared that Washington agreed with the proposal to hold elections in 2014. The Obama administration subsequently announced greater US aid for Fiji. These initiatives opened up an unprecedented breach between the US and Australia on a key issue of foreign policy in the South Pacific.

After 1945, Washington primarily delegated responsibility to Australian imperialism for maintaining control of the South West Pacific and shutting out rival powers. In turn, the US backed Canberra’s aggressive pursuit of its own predatory economic and strategic interests in the region.

Following Clinton’s meeting with her Fijian counterpart, the Australian government came under intense pressure to junk its “human rights” posturing on Fiji. Foreign policy think tanks, and the opposition Liberal-National coalition, called on the Labor government to follow the US lead.
Kevin Rudd’s replacement by Bob Carr as foreign minister earlier this year facilitated the diplomatic turnaround. Initially, however, Carr maintained the line of his predecessors. As recently as April, Carr declared that lifting sanctions against the Fijian government “would be several steps into the future” and that “we need to see a robust democracy functioning in Fiji.”

The timing of the sudden reversal may be due to pressure from Washington. Secretary of State Clinton is reportedly planning to attend the Pacific Islands Forum annual meeting later this month in the Cook Islands. It would be the first time that a US secretary of state has attended the Forum. The event was previously a little noted diplomatic affair, with Australian prime ministers frequently declining to attend, but amid the US diplomatic “full court press” in the Asia-Pacific it has taken on a greater political significance.

The State Department is expending considerable resources ahead of the Forum, with Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Cecil Haney currently on a week-long tour of seven Pacific Island states.

US officials are determined to use the Forum to advance their diplomatic and strategic influence and to combat Beijing’s initiatives in the region. Clinton undoubtedly has no intention of participating in a summit that is instead preoccupied with the question of Fiji’s diplomatic status.

Source:  WSWS

Friday, August 03, 2012

X-Post: The Australian- Fiji Vital To Any Effective Regional System

FOREIGN Minister Bob Carr's announcement this week that Australia and Fiji are to restore full diplomatic relations and that travel restrictions on Suva will be eased has engendered some passionate debate. 
Some analysts explained that Australia's turn around on its policy settings on Fiji was to preserve our leadership role in the neighbourhood. Others dismissed any suggestion that Carr's move was a cave-in to Suva that might risk our regional hegemony. Fiji's move away from its traditional friends isn't much different from the rest of world adjusting to China's rise in the Asian Century.
But that didn't stop some arguing that Canberra's shift from it's hard line stance on Fiji was driven by urgent pleas from Washington that Australia re-engage to stop Fiji's slide away from Western influence, especially in the direction of China.

Richard Herr & Anthony Bergin

" [...] Canberra's shift from it's hard line stance on Fiji was driven by urgent pleas from Washington that Australia re-engage to stop Fiji's slide away from Western influence[...]

Using the Pacific Islands Forum against Fiji was tantamount to cutting off our nose to spite our public face in the Pacific Islands. "
Our trade unions and other groups have long supported a strong exile and expatriate lobby in demanding that Australia not have any truck with an illegitimate and "interim" government in Suva.
But now that Australia has decided to reattach the high commissioner's brass plate to the chancery in Suva, serious thought ought to be given to how to use the more elevated relationship.

The Fiji government hasn't deviated one jot from its roadmap for elections in 2014 since Prime Minister Bainimarama announced it in July 2009. Keeping travel sanctions won't assist restoring parliamentary democracy to Fiji: they have simply resulted in capable Fijians being deterred from contributing to good governance in their own country and been partly responsible for Suva looking beyond its traditional friends to keep the country afloat.

Life goes on in Fiji with or without sanctions. But while they are there, they are perceived by Suva as a calculated insult against the Fiji government that ensures that Suva looks to other partners.
Following Foreign Minister Carr's very positive announcement this week we should move to restore relations between our military and Fiji's armed forces. We need to build trust with Fiji's military, who will continue be somewhere between the background and the foreground depending on the constitution.

We should open Duntroon, the Defence Academy and Staff Colleges to Fijian Defence force members. After all, we built on military connections with Jakarta when Indonesia was in transition to democracy.
We need to re-engage with Fiji not out of fear of Suva's Asian connections but to ensure balance in these new relationships. This balance is especially important for our regional relationships with the Pacific Islands.
Fiji is vital to any effective regional system. Using the Pacific Islands Forum against Fiji was tantamount to cutting off our nose to spite our public face in the Pacific Islands.

The Pacific Islands Forum is in serious difficulties due to having been sidelined by the imbroglio over Fiji. The regional torch is being carried by other arrangements, such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group, where our voice isn't present or welcome.

If the Forum is to prosper then Fiji should be brought back into a leadership role.

Richard Herr and Anthony Bergin are the co-authors of Our Near Abroad:Australia and Pacific islands regionalism, Australian Strategic Policy Institute
Source: The Australian

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