Monday, July 29, 2013

X-Post: The Australian - Arrogant PNG Solution A Shock To Pacific nations, Says Fiji.

FIJI has attacked the Rudd government's asylum-seeker policy, warning it threatens the social fabric of Pacific island nations.

Fiji Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola launched a broadside against Australia's plan to send all new boatpeople to Papua New Guinea for processing and possible resettlement. He accused Australia of using its economic muscle to persuade a Melanesian country to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific Islanders into the region.

“For an Australian problem, you have proposed a Melanesian solution that threatens to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balances in our societies,” Mr Kubuabola told the 20th Australia-Fiji Business Forum in Brisbane. “This deal, and those mooted with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, clearly threatens our interests by altering the fundamental social fabric of any member country that accepts a deal. “We are deeply troubled by the consequent threat to the stability of these countries and the wider Melanesian community by the scale of what is being envisaged.”

Mr Kubuabola said that while he respected the PNG government's sovereign right to make the deal, it was done to solve Australia's domestic political problem for short-term political gain, without proper consideration of the long-term consequences.
“This was done without any consultation, a sudden and unilateral announcement, which is not the Pacific way and has shocked a great many people in the region,” Mr Kubuabola said.

“We share the horror of many in the international community at the deaths of more than 1000 asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia. But we cannot remain silent when the current Australian government dumps this problem, which is arguably of its own making, on our doorstep. This deal continues a pattern of behaviour on the part of the Australian government that is inconsiderate, prescriptive, high-handed and arrogant.”
Source: The Australian

Fiji Foreign Minister Audio MP3 (Posted below)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

X-Post: The Strategist - Another BRIC In The Wall.

Talks between Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister of Fiji Voreqe Bainimarama
Image courtesy of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Is Russia about to become another brick in the wall between Fiji and its Western friends? The official visit by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, to Russia in late June has further developed a relationship that has been growing significantly closer over the last two years. In the course of the visit, he and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed five agreements, covering topics from financial security cooperation and the abolition of visa requirements through MOUs on health and University cooperation to military-technical cooperation. For a brief hyperbolic moment, Fiji media reports prior to the visit even suggested that Russia was about to open an embassy in Suva to substantially deepened the political relationship.

Fiji’s pursuit of non-traditional friends has intensified while the grip of international sanctions has shown no sign of relaxation, despite the progress made by the Bainimarama Government toward elections by September 2014. Fiji targeted Russia as part of diplomatic initiative centred on the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—from early 2011. In February 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Fiji. This was followed up a few months later by a delegation of Russian officials including military officers.

The nature of the mutual interest at that time was subject to the speculation that Russian interests lay in western Asia not the Pacific. This conjecture rested on Moscow’s pursuit of support for its position in the Caucasus region regarding the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Australia’s then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, openly accused Russia of cheque-book diplomacy in seeking to buy international recognition for the two break-away enclaves .

Russia does have some Pacific objectives of its own, as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear in open the May 2012 Vladivostok APEC Summit. In its own pivot to the Pacific, RADM Sergei Avakyants, Commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, announced that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia would send new warships to the Far East in 2014.

Whatever Russia’s motives for encouraging the relationship, Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, promoted the Moscow visit as furthering Fiji’s BRICS initiative. This begs the question of what a BRICS strategy might be. Is it more than a slogan?

The BRICS initiative is, of course, consistent with Bainimarama Government’s pursuit of greater South-South cooperation and support. Undoubtedly the prospect of the BRICS Development Bank is especially attractive in light of difficulties associated with other banks, where perceived Australian interference has worked against access to loans. The more immediate objective is political—to reinforce the Government’s increasing independence from its traditional friends as evidenced by its ‘Look North’ policy.
Richard Herr

" Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, sought greater South-South cooperation and elevated those regional arrangements that exclude Australia and New Zealand. "
At one level, the ‘Look North’ policy isn’t materially different from any other state beating a path to Beijing’s door in the Asia-Pacific Century. Yet, in Fiji’s case, it’s routinely contrasted with the less sympathetic treatment Suva receives from Canberra, Wellington and Washington, with the implication that China’s an alternative to these traditional friends.

Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, sought greater South-South cooperation and elevated those regional arrangements that exclude Australia and New Zealand. The BRICS aspect of this agenda has been bolstered bilaterally with the opening of resident diplomatic missions in Brazil and South Africa In the past two years. Fiji has had diplomatic ties with China since 1975. The Bainimarama Government is open in its desire to establish new relations with states that understand and will support its domestic reform agenda. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev gave Fiji his backing, openly asserting that Fiji had the ‘right to be left alone’ by ‘other countries’, implying Australia and New Zealand.

The potential military linkage is raising eyebrows externally especially in the wake of reports that Russia will help to equip nearly 600 Fiji troops on UN peacekeeping deployment to the Golan Heights. Western sanctions have restricted Fiji’s access to military equipment resupply and modernisation since the December 2006 military coup brought Commodore Bainimarama to power.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces have made small arms purchases from Indonesia and talked with China about more significant assistance. The prospective loss of NATO interoperability with the RFMF has been a source of concern amongst some Western states during this time but not enough to address Fiji’s resupply and modernisation issues. Russian support for the Golan Heights deployment may just be the thin edge of the wedge—a trial prior to a more general re-equipment of the RFMF that will move it and Fiji further away from the country’s traditional Western alignment.

Even if the Russian materiel for the Golan Heights proves more limited, it would still pose some significant challenges for Fiji’s diplomacy and even for the RFMF, which has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for professionalism in its UN peacekeeping roles. Nevertheless, it has also maintained the confidence of the Israelis when deployed along their borders.

The Fiji mission is fraught enough due to the difficulties that have seen peacekeepers from other countries withdrawn from the Golan Heights, as well as the Hezbollah activity through this area. Russia’s military support for Syria including the recent supply of anti-aircraft missiles to prevent Israeli attacks on Syrian weapons facilities made Tel Aviv suspicious of Moscow’s influence on Fiji peacekeepers. That might be behind the clarification by Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, the RFMF Land Force Commander, that the Golan Heights deployment already had the equipment they needed.

Just how far Fiji will push the military relationship with Russia and what Israel’s reaction will be are yet untested. Nevertheless, the Bainimarama Government will continue to pursue its BRICS strategy, creating further impediments to a return to a normal relationship with its traditional friends until the impasse over sanctions is resolved.
Even then, Fiji seems committed to new directions that will be more resolutely independent and Asia-focussed than pre-2006 and certainly with less of the ‘traditional’ in its relationships.

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. 

Source: The Strategist

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fiji PM: Australian High Commissioner To Fiji, On Hold.

Treat Fiji equally: Bainimarama 
July 26, 2013 03:55:18 PM
Source: Fiji Live

Fiji will not accept an Australian High Commissioner until the Australian Government treats Fiji with equal respect, says Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. In an interview with New Zealand’s Radio Tarana, he said the Australian Government does not treat Fiji with consideration and respect adding that the same treatment extends to all Melanesian countries.

“On the surface, things might seem fine but we think quite honestly that Australia always puts its interests first and tries to tell us all what to do,” Bainimarama said. “I’m not going to accept an Australian High Commissioner in Fiji until the Australian Government stops trying to damage us. “With Fiji, they’re still trying to damage our interests because we didn’t do what they ordered to have an immediate election after 2006 that would have solved nothing.”

Instead of showing their support, Bainimarama said the Aust Govt chose to punish Fiji and had been trying to damage Fiji’s reputation ever since. “Now obviously, there will come a time when the relationship is properly restored and I guess that will be when we have the election next year. “But I can tell you that if I win the election, we can rebuild the relationship but it won’t be the same relationship. “It won’t be Fiji kowtowing to Canberra.

We want a genuine partnership with genuine friends’ governments that treat us as equals and with respect. “We might be small but our vote at the UN has the same weight as Australia’s and anyone else who isn’t one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.” Hopeful for a good relationship with Australia, Bainimarama admits it would not come till “there’s a change in the mindset of Australia’s politicians.” He highlighted the recent asylum seeker crisis as a “good example of Canberra’s overbearing attitude.”

By Mereani Gonedua

 Radio Tarana Full Interview

Part 1 MP3 (posted below)

Part 2 MP3 (posted below)

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fiji's Dean of Diplomacy.

Fiji's Ambassador to the United States, Winston Thompson, pointed out that, one of the greatest challenges to the various Heads of Mission, was explaining Fiji's progress to 2014 elections to their host nation. (Video posted below)

As Dean of the Fiji Diplomatic Corp, Thompson added, that his host nation, had initially wanted an accelerated time line on Fiji's progress to democracy, but were made to understand that time was needed to bring about a number of structural changes that were needed in building a solid foundation for democracy.

Thompson mentioned Fiji's widening diplomatic profile and this was reflected in the increased trade statistics. Thompson also briefly touched on the U.S Pivot to Asia- Pacific region and alluded that, China's presence in Fiji had not raised much of a concern to the U.S.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

X-Post: Pacific Sccop - Two Faces Of International Power: Fiji and Egypt.

Source: Pacific Scoop: Commentary – By Dr Scott MacWilliam

Dr Scott MacWilliam (Image: Mary Walta)
The reactions after the 2006 coup in Fiji was very different from the recent coup in Egypt, even though both coups overthrew democratically elected governments. 

In July 2013, a military regime overthrew and imprisoned an elected Prime Minister and government, jailing as well as killing regime supporters. The US, Australian and New Zealand governments have done little more than warn their citizens about the possible dangers of travelling to that country as the protests against army rule escalate.

The Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr, a USA-phile and most suitable deputy sheriff has been conspicuously silent about a democratically-elected government being overthrown in a coup. Foreign aid has continued from the USA, including military aid despite ostensible bans against such assistance: a get-out clause in the relevant legislation has been invoked to permit the continuing provision of arms and other aid.

Bob Carr On Egypt- (Interview with Fran Kelly- Radio National

" I think it’s got to be considered as a military intervention whether it can be regarded as a coup I think will depend on what happens now[...]We’re not supporting it, we’re not opposing it. We’re saying all sides should show restraint."

No travel bans have been put in place against any of the coup-makers or the new regime’s top officials, even as the death toll among civilian protesters rises.  IMF officials are now more willing to advance a massive, previously delayed dollar loan to assist rebuild the country’s fragile economy.

On December 5, 2006, in another country Fiji, a military regime overthrew an elected Prime Minister and government.  For that coup the international response was and remains quite different, a difference examined here.

The responses to events in Egypt and Fiji will immediately raise the question of how to explain the actions of particular ‘western’ governments: hypocrisy, or two faces of liberal democratic power?

Military action

The first step in constructing an explanation is a rejection of the romantic idea that military action is incompatible with liberal representative democracy. A useful starting point is the recognition that in both Egypt and Fiji, the elections which preceded the coups as well as the governments which were subsequently deposed were military-supervised and backed.

Prior to the 2001 election in Fiji military commander, now PM Frank Bainimarama publicly stated that only the SDL leader Laisenia Qarase would be acceptable as PM. Qarase had himself been installed by the military before the election as the least worse option compared to the initial candidate proposed by the nationalist insurgents who had taken over parliament the previous year. There would be no return to the previously elected FLP Mahendra  Chaudhry-led Peoples Coalition government, an outcome also favoured by foreign governments.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government formed after the 2011 elections which followed the ousting of long-term dictator Hosni Mubarak also received initial military support. This was even though the party won a near-majority of seats with only slightly more than 30 per cent of the 60 per cent of the eligible electorate who voted.  That is, the government had simple majority support not absolute.

What followed the Egyptian parliamentary elections and the presidential election in the following year was a government which sought to implement a political platform that was sectarian.

The parallels with the post-election behaviour of the Qarase government deserve consideration. In Egypt, the government headed after the presidential elections by the Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi took an Islamist route, whereas in Fiji the Qarase government was suffused with nationalist indigenous zeal, leavened by Methodism and intolerance to other religions.

In both cases the military withdrew its earlier hesitant support, and toppled the elected government promising fresh elections under revised rules, forms of constitutional reform.

Different reactions

However for Fiji, international condemnation of the 2006 coup was immediate: it took just one day for Liberal Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the Department of Foreign Affairs to impose sanctions aimed at the restoration of the Qarase government and ‘returning the military to the barracks’.
These sanctions were retained by the Kevin-Rudd led ALP government which won the 2007 elections and re-confirmed by the subsequent Gillard ALP -led coalition government.  The increase in Australian aid since 2006 has been matched by deliberate attempts to ensure that the Fijian government’s support throughout the region remains limited.
Scott MacWilliam

" The responses to events in Egypt and Fiji will immediately raise the question of how to explain the actions of particular ‘western’ governments: hypocrisy, or two faces of liberal democratic power?"

It is tempting to describe the differing behaviours of the three foreign governments to mere hypocrisy, what has been described as ‘the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have’. However, there is far more at work here.

The differences between the official government responses to the two coups are so striking that it is worth asking if and what do events in Egypt suggest about the behaviour of ANZ governments to the coup and subsequent military takeover in Fiji. In other words why the appearance of hypocrisy, democracy for Fijians but not for Egyptians, and what does this appearance screen?

While the Egyptian military’s under-pinning of all governments in that country has some similarities with the military’s role in post-independence Fiji, there is at least one major difference.

Successive US governments have bolstered the Egyptian military, and thus a dictator such as Mubarak, because of that country’s crucial role in the region. Access to oil supplies provides a major component of the US and western European foreign policy position, with the fear of radical Islam of increasing importance.
For Egypt , US foreign policy has hewed to the well-established line: ‘we don’t care if there is a dictatorship as long as it is our dictator’.

Democracy and dictatorship

The only comparable role which the Fijian military has played is in providing peace-keeping support, much of it in that same ‘Middle East’ region.

However for Fiji, not strategically significant though becoming more so as the consequence of a growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific, liberal democratic governments have shown the always present other policy face, that concerned with imposing  representative democracy no matter how thin or shallow.

This face suits ANZ governments in particular because of close ties with the people and commercial concerns reduced in importance by the Bainimarama government. Re-installing these particular interests under the banner of bringing economic growth and political stability is, in the eyes of those who hold political power in ANZ, best served in Fiji by representative democracy.

Despite all the defects of the 1997 constitution, with its unelected president, upper house of parliament and Great Council of Chiefs, malapportioned electorates, institutionalised racist identification with citizenship, this remains the bedrock of what ANZ governments see as the appropriate democratic form for Fiji.

In Egypt, however, democratic form is unimportant for the USA and ANZ governments: military power which can bring order, however temporary, is preferable and the flow of international funds can occur.
Which of the two faces will be foremost after the next elections in each country will, of course, be largely irrelevant for the bulk of the people whose impoverishment has been and continues to be a major feature of life in both countries.

For the reductions in living standards have been much longer term in Egypt and in Fiji, with Ratu Mara noting in 1994 the extent of unemployment and impoverishment particularly among the young.  Indeed what is more and more apparent is that neither representative democracy nor military dictatorship has a direct causal connection with improvement in living standards.  The two faces of international power serve other objectives.

Dr Scott MacWilliam is  a Visiting Fellow, State Society and Governance in the Melanesia Programme, School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, Australian National University in Canberra. He is a contributor to Pacific Scoop.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Framing the Right Picture- Calling Out the Bias in Radio New Zealand International.

PNG Attitude blog post covers a recent Radio New Zealand International news bulletin, quoting from Fiji partisan talking heads, who raked the MSG leaders over the coals for their unwavering support of Fiji.

Some of the responses to the post were from PNG readers, that illustrated a different picture, than what was painted by Johnny Blades, the correspondent from Radio NZ:
All these words of the so-called UFDF are bullshit. We Melanesians do support the regime in Fiji and we are working towards transition to democracy as planned. Commander Frank needs to sort out outstanding problems before a national election. PNG understands Fiji so Fijians are not denied democratic rights, they are all happy with the regime. Posted by: Steve Gallagher | 14 July 2013 at 07:37 PM
Agree Steve - Who is the UFDF representing? Some of these groups are set up for financial (and political) gain. They should do a survey and find out what the majority of the Fijian people think (and want) about the deprivation of their ‘freedom’. That would be a democratic thing to do. Posted by: Marcus Mapen | 15 July 2013 at 07:49 AM
Just from the week I spent recently in Fiji, I've observed that Fijians under "dictatorship" have for freedoms than PNGeans in "democratic" PNG. UFDF folks and their backers should come live in PNG and they'll figure why Fiji's a better place. Even the social policies of their "dictatorial" regime are far more progressive and inclusive than "democratic" PNG. Posted by: Martyn Namorong | 15 July 2013 at 09:59 AM
I believe you Marcus that those things happen daily in Moresby. But it's beside the point. I am not comparing Fiji to PNG and neither was the article.
Posted by: Johnny Blades | 15 July 2013 at 04:02 PM
Johnny - Of course this rival group and others in Fiji have a right to be heard. And they have a right to review their country's continued participation in MSG after they've got themselves an elected government in place. But I think Bainimarama has managed to foster a greater united front among the Melanesian countries by the mere fact that he was able to demonstrate to his peers that we don' have to do what Australia et al think is best for us. Regardless of how his opponents and others in the world see him, he is increasingly becoming a key figure among his other Melanesians who don't trust Australia et al to interfere in their political process.
Posted by: David Kitchnoge | 15 July 2013 at 04:15 PM

Johnny Blades in sunglasses  (Source: Pacific Scoop)

What was interesting, was the fact that Radio NZ correspondent Johny Blades had to chime in and defend the use of drive-by journalism in his biased interview, to the readers.

 Posted below (mp3 file) is an audio mash-up of the Radio NZ interview, featuring some added rebuttals to the otherwise idealogue and partisan comments.

Play Song

Sunday, July 14, 2013

X-Post: Islands Business - Trans-Tasman Political and Diplomatic Naivety.

Australia and New Zealand have effectively failed to leverage this increased aid to engage more meaningfully with the Fijian government to the greater advantage of all, not least the Fijian people. Their stance smacks of political and diplomatic naivety’.

An article saying that Australia and perhaps New Zealand have played an active role in influencing a continuing ban on lending to Fiji by international financial institutions received much coverage in the regional media and the blogosphere. It suggested the two ANZAC nations used their influence on organisations like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to stymie financial assistance to the Fiji Government after 2006. But while continuing to influence these two large institutional banks, Australia stepped up its own development assistance to Fiji, the article noted, accusing the Australian establishment of hypocrisy.

Expectedly, both sides of the Fijian divide furiously commented on the article while the financial institutions and Australian Government sources issued the customary denials in customary bureaucratese, putting their practiced skills of saying much without saying anything to effective use. The institutions denied they were influenced by politics in decision making related to lending to governments but the language that was used in communications around not being able to lend to Fiji since 2006 hints at exactly the opposite.

Australia has clarified its boosting of development assistance as being aimed at projects benefiting the people directly as against lending to the Fijian Government to implement any development schemes. The denials appear strenuous. Though they seem to have softened their public stance on Fiji over time, there is no doubt that the ANZAC nations were vehement in their criticism in the early years following 2006 and worked actively to campaign worldwide to treat Fiji as a pariah. For instance, they tried to influence the United Nations to drop Fiji as a supplier of personnel for peacekeeping forces in the world’s trouble spots. But their clamour went unheeded. They canvassed the European Community, again with limited success. They have also opposed Fiji’s participation in regional trade deliberations like PACER Plus. They refrained from engaging with the Fiji regime in the crucial early years after December 2006, pursuing a rudderless isolationist tack that bore no fruit and resulted in forcing Fiji to look north.

Islands Business

" Americans have also stepped up pressure on the ANZAC nations to relook at their Fiji policy in light of China’s growing geopolitical muscle in the region. Everyone knows that Fiji is the pivot of geopolitical influence in the region. And the ANZAC nations’ isolationist policy has driven Fiji straight into the waiting arms of the Chinese. "
It is this deepening engagement with the north, notably China, that ultimately got them worried enough to change that stringently uncompromising isolationist tack of the earlier years. In recent years, both Australia and New Zealand, although not keen on saying specifically they have softened their school masterly stance on Fiji, have increased their engagement with the country at several levels. Increased development assistance, which is referred to in the said article, is one of them. The article’s allusion to Australia’s hypocrisy is somewhat misplaced.

The hypocrisy is not that it is not stymieing the Fiji Government’s access to international funding agencies for loans while scaling up direct development assistance. Rather, the hypocrisy is about hiding their mounting worry about the consequences they now face with their stringent isolationist strategy of the immediate years following 2006. As well as deeper engagement with China, which has undoubtedly worried them, the Americans have also stepped up pressure on the ANZAC nations to relook at their Fiji policy in light of China’s growing geopolitical muscle in the region. Everyone knows that Fiji is the pivot of geopolitical influence in the region. And the ANZAC nations’ isolationist policy has driven Fiji straight into the waiting arms of the Chinese. For instance, a World Bank infrastructure loan that was close to finalisation just before December 2006 has been held in abeyance ever since, affecting a crucial water supply project. But the Chinese government stepped in and duly helped complete the project with a soft loan.

The Chinese government has thereafter assisted by providing financing for a number of other infrastructure projects such as roads and ports around the country including on other islands.
Australia and New Zealand have effectively failed to leverage this increased aid to engage more meaningfully with the Fiji Government to the greater advantage of all, not least the Fijian people. Their stance smacks of political and diplomatic naivety. They seem to have concluded that helping people with aid while denying the government with vital loans somehow vindicates their stand of opposing the December 2006 event and the present state of affairs.

It is incredible that the boffins in Canberra and Wellington could not have figured out that whatever aid that lands in Fiji and helps development, ultimately is credited to the government by the people, thereby making the government look good anyway.

Such befuddled thinking accompanied by the looming fear of the growing Chinese influence in the region and their unwitting part in abetting it, as well as pressure from the United States to toe its own line on conciliation on the Fiji issue in the interests of regional geopolitical rebalancing has further confused policymaking. On their part, the big financial institutions accused in the article of complying with the wishes of the ANZAC nations in denying financial assistance to the Fiji Government have expectedly denied such a thing happened. Their denial is enveloped in clever, circumlocutory corporate speak. But it is a little more than the proverbial fig leaf.

In view of the steps the Fiji Government is taking towards elections on September 14—under the watchful gaze of the international community—it is time these institutions and their board member countries revise their duplicitous policy that has led them nowhere so far. Fiji is too geopolitically critical to remain friendless for too long. The manner in which China and the Asian nations have rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the ANZAC nations post-2006 is testimony to this. Australia and New Zealand have undoubtedly realised this. It is time they acknowledged it—they won’t publicly. But they can do so by stopping any negative campaigning behind the scenes.

Source: "We Say" Islands Business -July 2013 Issue.

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Fiji's Peacekeeping Deployment To Golan and Russian Support.

Fiji deployed troops to the UNDOF mission in Golan. Fiji also plans to increase its current troop levels via new recruit drives. Fiji's Land Force Commander Mosese Tikoitoga explained the rationale behind this, including the composition of deployments to United Nations and other Peacekeeping missions. Fiji's military and technical cooperation with Russia is discussed in an audio mashup from various sources, along with some concerns with regards to the safety of Fiji troops. (Audio posted below)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

X-Post: Islands Business - Foreign Policy Towards Fiji, Up For Debate

Source: Islands Business

(Audio -posted below) From RNZI

Fri 12 Jul 2013
OTAGO, New Zealand --- Foreign policy experts, students and diplomats have been mulling over how best to handle Fiji. The approaches discussed at Otago University’s annual Foreign Policy School ranged from crude horse-trading to long-term strategic planning.

As Radio New Zealand International Sally Round reports, there was no right answer, but plenty of debate.
Fiji’s first coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka used the military dictionary to describe contrasting foreign policy towards Fiji before and after the latest coup.

SITIVENI RABUKA: When you look at the actions of Australia and New Zealand and some other former friends we had and you look at what China is doing, who is being tactical,who is being strategic?
The Australian High Commissioner in New Zealand, Michael Potts, agreed Canberra, for one, has taken a tactical approach.

MICHAEL POTTS: Australian voters feel quite strongly about the events in Fiji over three decades. So our government naturally feels responsive, I think, to that view, as well. The Chinese, of course, have the advantage of not having general elections every five years. And so they can take a much longer, and in many ways, a much more sophisticated world view.
But Michael Potts says Australia has not turned its back on Fiji.

MICHAEL POTTS: It is very clear we have walked away from the Fiji military. But the notion that we’re walking away from the people of Fiji I think is misplaced. Despite the size of Chinese assistance, Australia is still the largest donor in Fiji. We run close to AUD$40 million a year.

But Sitiveni Rabuka described a strong defence relationship as essential.

SITIVENI RABUKA: Breaking the military link is the worst break because you have lost that contact between offices that you could fall back on when diplomacy fails.

Long-time Fiji-watcher Jon Fraenkel of Wellington’s Victoria University says much of the debate around foreign policy towards Fiji has centred on theories of crude tit-for-tat horse trading. He says other countries’ foreign policies are not the key driver of events in Fiji. But he suggests a foreign policy aimed at promoting democracy should be carefully calibrated. It is often the gradual and indirect approach, he says, which has more influence.

JON FRAENKEL: And often if you look at the experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America, what’s been important is not the sort of direct one-to-one diplomatic challenge, but rather a longer-term filtering upwards of ideas about the connection between legitimacy, popular control and democracy.

The Director of the Centre for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawaii, Terence Wesley-Smith, says many assumptions are made about China’s presence in and policy towards Fiji without a lot of research. He says he has yet to find back-up for assertions that China is somehow singling out Fiji for soft loans or bankrolling the regime leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

TERENCE WESLEY-SMITH: If there’s a sin associated with China in Fiji, it’s a sin of omission, meaning that they’re really not doing anything differently. They have continued their relationship with Fiji where others have pulled back from that relationship.

A China foreign policy scholar from Canterbury University, Anne-Marie Brady, had this report from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its policy towards Fiji.

ANNE-MARIE BRADY: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said to me, ’China does not interfere in the politics of other countries. China’s support of the Bainimarama government is not interference. It’s up to the Fijian people to decide who leads them. If Fiji can maintain political stability it would be good for the region. China wants New Zealand and Australia to understand Fiji’s point of view’.

Anne-Marie Brady reported China does not want Australia and New Zealand to use extreme methods to criticise Fiji.

Ernest Bower of the Washington-based think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies says the US could be more effective in Fiji, but it doesn’t know how.

ERNEST BOWER: I think the United States wants to get it right. They will always stand on the side of democracy, where there’s a coup or where there’s a clear violation of democratic values. There’s not question where the Americans stand on that. We want to see an election, a free and fair election. I think the question is more at a practical policy level - how can you be effective in encouraging that outcome?

Ernest Bower described US policy towards Fiji as a ’work in progress’.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

X-Post :Thesmith - In the South Pacific, Chinese Economic Development Continues

There is a paradigm shift happening in the Asia Pacific that is energising the region in a slow but clear way. For the foreseeable future at least, many of the Pacific’s smaller states are set to continue their trend of relying on larger power patrons for funding while developing stronger ties with each other, creating something of a Pacific network.