Showing posts with label ACP-EU Pacific trade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ACP-EU Pacific trade. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

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has erupted between Fiji and The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)over the recent announcement that, Fiji had voluntarily withdrawn from the hastily scheduled PACP meeting in Solomon Islands, 'as a matter of principle'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

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

Source: Pacnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 18, 2013

X-Post: Island Business - What Lies Ahead For The Forum?

Source: Islands Business

 Dr Roman Grynberg
The last three years have certainly been amongst the most difficult in the history of the Pacific Islands Forum. Following the coup by Frank Bainimarama in 2006, the Forum excluded Fiji from its meetings and created an isolation that has officially continued but has crumbled as more and more of Fiji’s neighbours have been showing a willingness to deal with the incumbent administration in Suva.

This isolation of the government in Suva by the Forum was pushed wholeheartedly by Australia and New Zealand and initially supported in a very grudging way by the Pacific islands states. Some like Samoa were ardent supporters of the Forum’s ‘cordon sanitarie’ around Bainimarama’s administration. Samoa left their man, former Samoan ambassador and current Secretary-General of the Forum Tuiloma Neroni Slade, to implement a policy conceived in Canberra and supported by Apia and Wellington.

The only problem was sitting in Suva it was a difficult for Tuiloma to do his masters’ bidding when increasingly Bainimarama was able to undermine the apparent but weak Forum solidarity regarding democracy, especially in Melanesia as well as amongst the smaller neighbours like Tuvalu which, while totally financially dependent on Canberra, were logistically totally dependent upon Fiji.

In tandem with the Forum’s failing Fiji policy, the last three years have seen the accelerating loss of any faith in the Forum as an institution that could conceivably represent any interest other than that of Australia and New Zealand and those governments totally financially dependent upon them. The first great loss was conceived as a means of dealing with the islands during the PACER Plus negotiations. The Forum Secretariat recognised that it could not help the islands in their negotiations for a trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand.

The formal reason given was that it could not take sides but the real reason was that the islands no longer trusted the Forum. In fact, the Forum always seemed to take sides—not in favour of the islands but in favour of Canberra and Wellington.

All substantial economic documents the organisation produced was given to Canberra and Wellington first and they were allowed to change documents before any islands state saw them. It was for this reason that the islands created the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser in Port Vila to provide advice during the negotiations that was not controlled by Canberra.

Last year, under pressure from Papua New Guinea, a special leaders summit occurred in Port Moresby which essentially agreed to the creation of a Pacific ACP Secretariat in PNG, taking away a further function from the increasingly emasculated Forum Secretariat. In large part, this was driven by PNG’s commercial interests in dominating the Pacific ACP group agenda but was also supported by those countries which felt, quite correctly, that excluding Fiji from ACP meetings at the Forum, relegating officials to SPC meetings and excluding Bainimarama and his ministers was a step too far.

Fiji, while subject to sanctions by both the Forum and Commonwealth, had not been excluded from the ACP councils or formally sanctioned by the European Union. As a result, the Forum’s decision to not include Fiji in ACP meetings that occur under the auspices of the Forum and not provide ministers with services was seen as too much.

Roman Grynberg

" In tandem with the Forum’s failing Fiji policy, the last three years have seen the accelerating loss of any faith in the Forum as an institution that could conceivably represent any interest other than that of Australia and New Zealand and those governments totally financially dependent upon them. The first great loss was conceived as a means of dealing with the islands during the PACER Plus negotiations. The Forum Secretariat recognised that it could not help the islands in their negotiations for a trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand [...]

Tuiloma has overseen the dismantling of the trade and economic functions of the Forum. He has done his masters’ bidding on Fiji and they will be most pleased with him. But as a superannuated septuagenarian who will trot off into the sunset, how will his legacy look? Not good unless he does something in the next two years with the only remaining economic instrument left in the Forum’s purview—the Pacific Plan. "
Prior to the Port Moresby meeting, PIFS, clearly sensing that its position had become untenable, tried to circulate a paper saying it would support Fiji but it was clearly too late. The Forum has tried to loudly protest the decision to create a Pacific ACP office, further hollowing out its economic functions.
There are, of course, several problems with the Pacific ACP leaders’ decision. The first is that who will fund the organisation? Certainly, based on all the precedents—it will not be the islands who love creating organisations with highly paid directors but not paying for it themselves.

Can PNG provide any real assurances that if the EU does fund such a body that there will be something resembling good financial governance? And perhaps most importantly, tucked away quietly in Port Moresby, will it be anything other than a tool for the PNG government and private sector to advance their interests.
The islands’ decision to move the ACP leaders meeting to PNG will almost certainly mean that ACP work will also migrate from the Forum. It may be one decision the other islands will come to regret in the coming years as PNG expands its oil and gas driven power and influence in the region.

Tuiloma has just begun his last three-year term and will become in effect a lame duck late next year when his heir apparent, the ‘eternal-Secretary-General-in-waiting’ and former Fiji Foreign Minister, Kaliopate Tavola will probably be anointed. Tuiloma has overseen the dismantling of the trade and economic functions of the Forum. He has done his masters’ bidding on Fiji and they will be most pleased with him.

But as a superannuated septuagenarian who will trot off into the sunset, how will his legacy look? Not good unless he does something in the next two years with the only remaining economic instrument left in the Forum’s purview—the Pacific Plan.

In theory and on superficial reading, the Pacific Plan constituted the most serious effort ever by political leaders in the Pacific to address the fundamental inability of most of the government administrations in the region to deal with a complex range of issues by virtue of their small size. There were numerous objectives but essentially it was a political attempt to pool resources and deal with the absence of economies of scale in the islands.

The Pacific Plan was a rather typical top-down attempt at reform. It was initiated not by an islands leader but by then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who remained the driving force behind it throughout 2003/2004. An eminent persons group was formed, special leaders summit was called and islands states sagaciously nodded approval for the Pacific Plan in 2004. Having received an endorsement for her ‘big idea’, Clark could ‘tick the box’ and move on to bigger things.

The only problem was that neither Clark’s officials and certainly not their Australian counterparts took the Pacific Plan seriously. What evolved was a classic and cynical bureaucratic response to what was perceived as an imposed, alien and unnecessary political process.ANZ and regional officials basically took the regional aid programmes that they were already implementing and renamed them the Pacific Plan.

There was also little or no support from the islands as it soon became evident that the Plan was merely window dressing, a renaming of whatever Australia and New Zealand bureaucrats were, in any case, planning to do. Thus the Pacific Plan, became the walking dead, a political zombie from a previous decade that continues to live in name only. It failed because it had no obvious island champions nor any real roots in the islands.

Now the Pacific Plan is being reviewed by former PNG Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta and if the normal course of such reviews proceed, then what will emerge are eminently sensible but with minor technocratic adjustments. Many of the proposals for the real pooling of resources have never happened and will never be implemented until political leaders at the Forum stop allowing their bureaucrats to dictate the direction and pace of integration, ie until they actually lead.

Tuiloma could use the review of the Forum to address the real political issues that underlie the failure of the Pacific Plan to make any concrete change in the way Pacific Islands deal with their problems which are structural in nature. This would give Tuiloma’s tenure as Secretary-General a real legacy that matters to the future of the islands.

Club Em Designs

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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