Showing posts with label Australia Foreign Policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australia Foreign Policy. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

X-Post: The Strategist - Guns and Roses… But No Valentine’s Day Massacre



PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop-2014
 (L)Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama and (R)Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. [Image MoI]


The Valentine’s Day meeting in Suva between Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama proved more of a love-in than a confrontation. Predictions before the meeting suggested that confrontation—at least of interests if not personalities—was the more likely. On the day of the meeting the Lowy Institute predicted it would be Fiji’s last chance, while the Fiji Sun asserted with equal conviction that it was Australia’s last opportunity.

In the event, there was no massacre of hopes as Ms Bishop presented a bouquet of diplomatic roses and Prime Minister Bainimarama graciously accepted.
Reports from Suva suggest that the warmth between the two was more than just theatre for the media cameras. Just where relations go from here will decide how well grounded the rapprochement between the two countries really is.
Perhaps the first point to be made is that virtually all the coverage of the meeting focused on its bilateral significance—with complete justification. Ms Bishop was in Suva as a member of the Pacific Islands Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group on a monitoring visit to review Fiji’s progress toward retuning to parliamentary democracy. However, the significance was always going to be on the quality of the bilateral chemistry between the Fijian Prime Minister and the Australian Foreign Minister.

Fiji’s relationship with the Pacific Islands Forum won’t necessarily be repaired by the bilateral re-engagement, nor will Australia’s role in the regional body return to pre-sanction levels. Prime Minister Bainimarama is currently building a headquarters for a new regional body that excludes Australia and is intended to parallel the PIF.
The regional roles for Fiji and Australia have been forced apart by Fiji’s suspension from the PIF orchestrated by Canberra. Reconvergence is not impossible but it’s unlikely to be fully achieved any time soon. Regional affairs will remain a separate and significant issue for Australia.

The key development from the visit was in opening the door to improved bilateral links. But, while the roses have been accepted, what will it take to ensure there is a second date? Fiji has maintained that nothing matters unless the debilitating affects of the travel sanctions are lifted to enable strengthening of the economy and recruiting appropriate expertise for governance and the public sector.
Ms Bishop has undertaken to continue the review of the travel bans and take this to Cabinet for approval. Subtly this gives Australia time to await further validation of Prime Minister Bainimarama’s commitment to elections by the end of September 2014.

Richard Herr

" Fiji’s relationship with the Pacific Islands Forum won’t necessarily be repaired by the bilateral re-engagement, nor will Australia’s role in the regional body return to pre-sanction levels [...]Fiji has maintained that nothing matters unless the debilitating affects of the travel sanctions are lifted to enable strengthening of the economy and recruiting appropriate expertise for governance and the public sector. "
A significant watershed occurs at the end of February when Commander Bainimarama hangs up his uniform and becomes simply civilian Prime Minister Bainimarama. Not only will Prime Minister Bainimarama will no longer be military commander, the new constitution guarantees that his replacement as Commander will not be in Government either. Thus, this is a very important political act that will break the direct link between the Government of Fiji and the chain of command of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces that has existed since the 2006 coup. This critical step toward a civilianised Government prior to the September elections will be accompanied on March 1st with the long awaited details of the Prime Minister’s newly formed political party.

With those moves toward a civilian and democratic Government continuing in Fiji, Ms Bishop brought to the meet more than just a spray of fresh roses. Guns were on the table as well. The reestablishment of defence attaché arrangements is an essential opening for other proposed developments, which are said to be readmission to the Pacific patrol boat program and a defence co-operation program.

Some of these proposals may be welcomed but sober reflection has already set in Suva regarding the renewal of defence ties. Fiji is said to have already renovated or arranged for the renovation of its current patrol boats and is aware that there are no budgetary provisions for new patrol boats, so any further vessels would be years away. Joint exercises and the restoration staff college training will be welcome but inclusion in broader high level arrangements such as the South Pacific Defence Ministers meeting will also have to be on the cards.

It’s in Australia’s interest to be able to work at the highest policy level with the RFMF on the panoply of regional security issues, including marine resource protection, border protection, and non-state transnational threats.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces recently announced an expansion of its engineer corps by one battalion to cope with higher demand at home with rural development infrastructure as well its overseas commitments. Assistance with equipment and materiel for this expansion will be timely.

Critics might object to the restoration of the defence relationship with Fiji but there’s no chance that other areas of re-engagement will be ignored in favour of the defence cooperation. Nevertheless, Ms Bishop sensibly took the guns as well as the roses on the first date, recognising the importance of an effective relationship with RFMF to assist with a stable transition back to democracy.
It may well prove to be a key to a second date and a third.


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.

Editor’s note: the ninth paragraph of this post is an expanded version of the original posting.

Related SiFM post- The Last Foreign Policy Bender

Saturday, December 21, 2013

X-Post: Australia’s Regional Foreign Policy Left Standing In The Shadows Of The Anglosphere




Upon taking government, Australia’s conservative coalition parties, led by Tony Abbott, had a simple foreign policy refrain: more Jakarta, less Geneva.

The previous Labor government had a more ambitious suite of policies on positioning Australia in the Asian century, yet regionalism was still order of the day. Despite the supposed predilection for regionalism and Australia’s unique geopolitical interests, leaked NSA documents on intelligence operations in Indonesia suggest the country is struggling to reconcile historical alliances to the Five Eyes network and the rising ASEAN heavyweights. In short, Australia may still be standing in the shadows of the Anglosphere.

Material leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicates the Australian Defence Signals Directorate attempted to tap the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president’s wife and high-level Indonesian ministers in 2009. Claims have also aired that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service placed listening devices in the Timorese cabinet room in 2004 during deliberations on a proposed oil and gas treaty with the Australian government.

The theatrical diplomatic confrontation that has followed these leaks coincides with a critical juncture in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Indonesian cooperation with the Abbott government’s border protection strategy is operationally essential. Operation Sovereign Borders requires high-level Indonesian cooperation as most asylum seekers transit through Indonesia before making a seaward journey to Australia.

Many of the NSA revelations about Australian intelligence activities are not surprising, nor unexpected to the political elite of Asian Pacific countries. However, the revelations are likely to reinforce the worst stereotypes and popular regional (mis)conceptions of Australian foreign policy. More than ever Australian diplomatic activity will be seen through an unflattering prism of US patronage.

For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment.

For the current Indonesian parliament, political class and press, historical suspicions about Australia’s position on West Papuan independence, disappointment over live cattle embargos and residual political angst at Australian intervention in East Timor have raised to the surface of Indonesian political discourse.

The parties were primed for this exact type of diplomatic conflict after the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referenced the 1962-66 Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, known as Konfrontasi (in which Australian troops fought as part of British forces in Borneo and West Malaysia against Indonesian-supported forces ), when discussing the Liberal Party’s border protection policy and its contravention of Indonesian sovereignty. Those that see the diplomatic spat as nothing more than theatre would argue these elevated suspicions are not that far from the latent, regional perceptions of Australia security and foreign policy.

Scott Hickie

" For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment. "
Considering the status quo perceptions, the NSA revelations could be dismissed as having little substantive consequence – the inevitable price to be paid for a ‘regional sheriff’ keeping frail states and economically weak authoritarian regimes in check and supporting the Anglosphere.

However, the relative power balance across Southeast Asia and the Pacific has changed over the last 10 to 15 years. A notable proportion of fragile and developing states have emerged from negative growth and post conflict environments to improved security situations and increased political stability and have posted almost decade-long continued GDP growth alongside institutional reform.

These unfolding regional economic developments translate to growing political confidence and diplomatic clout for the rising ASEAN powers. The dynamic also underscores greater interdependency between Australia’s future trade interests and security posture – particularly critical on- and off-shore infrastructure in North West Australia.

This point is sometimes lost on Australia’s political class and public who harbour a decade old regional security understanding preoccupied with Australian proximity to fragile states and developing countries beset with political instability. A recent Lowy Institute poll on Australian perceptions of Indonesia shows an almost collective amnesia about any economic or political transformation post-Suharto.

Notwithstanding Australia’s considerable intelligence investment in Indonesia and the large-scale Bali terrorist attack in 2002, the security threats anticipated by the United States and Australia in early post-9/11 have not materialised to the magnitude anticipated and feared. Transboundary Islamic militancy and violent jihadist groups spreading a unified arc of insecurity across southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, primarily threatening Western interests, has not unfolded.

Provincial insurgencies, though in existence, have not toppled governments, triggered systemic, wide-scale human rights abuses demanding a regional/international Responsibility to Protect response or disrupted trade. Over the last decade, and in terms of wide-scale human devastation and insecurity, no event has surpassed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took the lives of 230,000 and left 1.69 million displaced. Yet, the call of the Anglosphere remains strong.

If the degree to which Australia plays the United States’ proxy regional security underwriter can be scaled back, diplomatic space may open for Australia to carve out a more independent regional international relations agenda. While there is significant consistency and similarity between US and Australian foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific, there remains nuanced but critical points of divergence around trade agreements, regional counter-terrorism initiatives, resolution of maritime boundary disputes, aid and human rights agendas in Southeast Asia. Most importantly, it is the emerging security interdependency at a regional scale that requires prioritisation.

One of the challenges for Australia tempering or better calibrating its regional interdependency with historical and so-called ‘civilisational’ allegiances is the optics and perception of Australia repositioning itself within some sort of Asian sphere of influence.

A US Asia-Pacific pivot and China’s increasing economic dominance and military modernisation lures existing and rising regional middle powers to the bipolar corners of the two global hegemons. Stronger Australian links with Indonesia and Malaysia could be miscalculated as Australia being one step away from falling into the Sino fold. Such a miscalculation fails to appreciate the nature of Indonesian/Malaysian and Chinese relations.

Furthermore, evolving security reconfigurations are resulting from some Southeast Asian countries establishing or augmenting security arrangements with the United States to counterbalance Chinese assertiveness around maritime claims. US efforts to build defence cooperation with Vietnam is a case in point. In one sense this may lead to a dilution of the perceived uniqueness of Australian and US defence ties within the region.

It is evident, now more than ever that Australian foreign policy needs to step out of the shadow of the Anglosphere and develop a deeper network of relations in Southeast Asia. This does not mean compromising US defence ties or being co-opted into a Sino sphere of influence. It means Australia can have greater flexibility to address critical regional trade, security and political imperatives with important neighbours.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Australia's Familarity With Spying, Breeds Contempt Of Its Neighbors. (Updated)

As if Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had enough regional enmity to deal with, subsequent to the Indonesia spying fiasco; Australia has managed to infuriate its relations with East Timor (Timor Leste) stemming from the CMATS negotiations surrounding maritime claims to the resource rich area of the Timor Sea. The Australian treatment of East Timor has much similarities to the unbridled exploitation of the past.

Diego Rivera - Mural of exploitation of Mexico by Spanish conquistadors, Palacio Nacional, Mexico City (1929-1945)
Australia's involvement in the 5 Eyes network has been not without controversy, but  the Australians appear to be stumbling from one diplomatic wrangle to another. Derived from issues much to their own making by the damning actions of Governments of the past, or the insensitive reactions of the present administration, to lame promises about the future. Australia is its own worst enemy.

Timor-Leste spy case: Brandis claims 'ridiculous', says ambassador

Timor-Leste ambassador Abel Guterres said attorney-general's explanation would be rejected by any 'fair-minded Australian'



Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia said his country was “deeply disappointed” Australian intelligence agencies had resorted to raids against the tiny nation’s lawyer and star witness in the international hearing of spying allegations and thought “fair-minded” Australians would reject the explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, as ridiculous.

The Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery, who is representing Timor-Leste in an international arbitration hearing in the Hague, has argued the raids were a deliberate effort by the Australian government to disrupt the proceedings, in which Timor-Leste alleges that in 2004 Australia improperly spied on the Timorese during negotiations on an oil and gas treaty worth billions of dollars in order to extract a commercial benefit.

Timor Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to explain himself and guarantee the safety of the witness – a former senior Australian Security Intelligence Service (Asis) officer allegedly directly involved in the bugging of the Timorese cabinet office during the sensitive negotiations of the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMAT) treaty.

"The actions taken by the Australian government are counterproductive and uncooperative," Mr Gusmao said. "Raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct. It is behaviour that is not worthy of a close friend and neighbour or of a great nation like Australia."
Brandis confirmed he issued the warrants for the Asis raids, but denied they were intended to interfere in the case and said the matter was an issue of national security.
Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia, Abel Guterres, rejected that assertion and said most Australians would also consider it ridiculous.
“Our country, Timor-Leste, which came out of 24 years of struggle and trauma, and the subsequent mayhem in 1999, do you think Timor-Leste could possibly pose a security threat to Australia,” he told Guardian Australia.
George Brandis
The explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, was rejected by Timor-Leste's ambassador.( Photograph: Daniel Munoz/AAP)

“Thousands of people in Australia asked the government to help us [during the violence around the autonomy ballot in 1999] and Australia helped us … are we a security threat to Australia, I don’t think so, I think any fair-minded Australian would see this as ridiculous.”
Brandis rejected the suggestions of interference in the case, telling the Senate on Wednesday these were “wild and injudicious claims”. He said he issued the warrants on national security grounds but declined in his statement to disclose “the specific nature of the security matter concerned”.

“The search warrants were issued, on the advice and at the request of ASIO, to protect Australia’s national security,” Brandis said. He said he had instructed ASIO not to share any material gathered in Tuesday’s raids with Australia’s legal team in the Hague “under any circumstances”. Brandis said Australia respected the arbitral proceedings.

Guterres said Timor-Leste had acted “in good faith” throughout the long dispute over the negotiation, and both parties had agreed to try to resolve the issue through arbitration, “but now the whole thing has turned sour”.

He said Australia’s actions appeared designed to prevent the witness – who was due to fly to the Hague but has now had his passport cancelled – giving verbal evidence, and it was unclear what impact this would have on Timor-Leste’s case.

“It depends how the arbitration sees it if the witness cannot appear in person … but it doesn’t help our case,” he said. “Australia of all places, our ally, our neighbour, our trusted friend, is doing something that is not worthy of being an example.”

Guardian Australia understands Timor-Leste had intended to seek a form of witness protection for the former ASIS officer. The negotiation centred on boundaries to determine how the two countries would share oil and gas deposits under the Timor Sea, called the Greater Sunrise fields, worth tens of billions of dollars. Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, was working closely with the Howard government during the talks.
Timor-Leste alleges Australia inserted bugs in the cabinet room to listen to Timorese negotiators during the talks, under the guise of a refurbishment paid for by an Australian aid program.

Asked about the raids, Abbott said on Wednesday; "We don't interfere in cases, but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld. That's what we're doing.”
The Greens have called for a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence overreach after revelations that Australian intelligence attempted in 2009 to listen in to the mobile phone of the Indonesian president, his wife and their inner circle; and revelations this week that Australian intelligence offered to share metadata about ordinary citizens with foreign intelligence partners in 2008.
ABC news article, reported that the passport of the retired Intelligence officer cum whistle blower has been cancelled,  in an attempt to bully and throw a spanner in the works of East Timor's legal case against Australia in the Hague.
Podcast of ABC audio segment posted below.




WSWS web article provides additional coverage of the fiasco:

Australian government orders ASIO raids to suppress East Timor spying evidence

By Mike Head
4 December 2013
In a blatant attack on fundamental legal and democratic rights, the Abbott government yesterday ordered Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the homes and offices of a lawyer and former intelligence agency whistleblower involved in an international legal challenge to Australia’s spying on the East Timor government during maritime border talks in 2004.

Bernard Collaery, the Canberra lawyer representing East Timor in its case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, said his office was raided just 24 hours after he left Australia to prepare the proceedings. ASIO officers spent hours searching his office, alarming two young female staff members. They seized a personal computer, USB stick, and sensitive files relating to the legal proceedings, including the affidavit of the crucial witness, a retired senior Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) official.

One of Collaery’s shocked assistants told journalists: “They were filming it, explained to me that they were from ASIO and there were AFP officers there too.” The women were shown a substantially blacked-out search warrant, and told they could not even keep a copy, supposedly for “security reasons.”

Collaery said the key witness was also detained and questioned, along with his wife, at their home. Apparently, the ex-ASIS officer was later released, but his passport was confiscated to prevent him from appearing in The Hague.

What, if any, legal grounds exist for these raids and other measures remain entirely unclear, and unspecified. Collaery commented: “I have no way of knowing the legal basis upon which these unprecedented actions [took place].”

Collaery said he had the evidence with him, and the raid would do “very little” to hinder East Timor’s case. “I can’t see what the government hopes to achieve by this aggressive action,” he said. “It can attempt to nullify the whistleblower’s evidence, but that evidence has flown—the evidence is here.”

Personally ordered by Attorney-General George Brandis, the raids are designed not only to block evidence being presented in The Hague of the illegal bugging of East Timor’s government. They send a wider threatening message to the media, the legal profession and potential whistleblowers not to release any further material exposing the intensive surveillance operations conducted by the Australian intelligence apparatus throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
These operations, which include listening posts in the Australian embassies in Dili and other Asia-Pacific capitals, are integral to the global US spying network—now exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden—and the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive “pivot” to Asia to combat China.

Significantly, as the ASIO-AFP raids took place, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was preparing to fly to Indonesia in a bid to mend relations after Snowden’s revelations of US-backed Australian tapping of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone in 2009.
The raids followed further damning revelations, via leaked Snowden documents, of massive surveillance by the Australian intelligence agencies, directed against ordinary people in Australia, as well as people and governments across the region. (See: “Snowden document confirms US-backed mass surveillance in Australia”). They also came amid an intensifying campaign by the Abbott government and the media establishment to denounce the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Guardian Australia web site for publishing the incriminating documents.

Many unanswered questions exist about the raids. Last night, Brandis issued a terse statement declaring that he issued the search warrants to seize documents that “contained intelligence related to security matters.” Without offering any explanation, he simply branded as “wrong” allegations that his actions sought to impede East Timor’s litigation.
Collaery, however, said the raids sought to intimidate anyone else who wanted to come forward against the Australian government. He said the star witness was a former director of all technical operations at ASIS, who decided to blow the whistle because the “immoral and wrong” bugging of the East Timorese government served the interests of major oil and gas companies.

The illegal eavesdropping is now being raised by East Timor to challenge the outcome of the resulting pact, the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty.
In 2004, during negotiations for the treaty, the Australian government, then led by Prime Minister John Howard, economically and politically bullied the East Timorese government of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in order to secure the lion’s share of the vast oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed. It also ordered ASIS operatives to plant listening devices in government and prime ministerial offices in Dili, enabling Canberra to snoop on the East Timorese delegates throughout the talks.

Ultimately, the Howard government forced East Timor to shelve any resolution of a maritime border in the area for 50 years, while dividing oil and gas revenues on a 50-50 basis. The largest project, Greater Sunrise, which lies entirely in East Timor’s waters according to international maritime law, will be exhausted within 50 years, starving the tiny impoverished country of critical revenues.
A major Australian company, Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, worked hand in glove with the Howard government and its foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who was in charge of ASIS. Collaery said the former ASIS official decided to expose the bugging upon learning that Downer, after quitting politics, became an adviser to Woodside.

Collaery said the details in the whistleblower’s affidavit had never been made public, until now. The director-general of ASIS and his deputy “instructed a team of ASIS technicians to travel to East Timor in an elaborate plan, using Australian aid programs relating to the renovation and construction of the cabinet offices in Dili, East Timor, to insert listening devices into the wall,” he said.
The Canberra lawyer accused the government and ASIO of “muzzling the oral evidence of the prime witness.” The spying, he commented, amounted to “insider trading,” for which “people would go to jail,” if it happened in the financial markets.
Members of the former Howard government, including Downer, may have direct personal interests in suppressing this information. However, the geo-political context, bound up with the services provided by Canberra and its spy agencies to Washington, indicates that much more is at stake.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today vehemently defended the ASIO raids, claiming that the government does not interfere in court cases, “but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld—that’s what we’re doing.” Labor’s opposition leader Bill Shorten quickly closed ranks, lining up with the government to defeat a Senate motion asking Brandis to explain the raids.

By invading a lawyer’s office, and persecuting a former ASIS official, the authorities in Canberra are demonstrating that they will stop at nothing to protect the operations of the Australian intelligence services and their US patrons.
East Timor based NGO, La'o Hamutuk has been covering the controversial negotiations between the Australian and East-Timorese Governments and their website has a wealth of background history and information, surrounding the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) Treaty.

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.”
AAP
Source: The Australian

Fiji Foreign Minister Audio MP3 (Posted below)


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)


Club Em Designs

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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

Source: Pacific Scoop: Commentary – By Dr Scott MacWilliam

Scott-MacWilliam-Jan-2013-for-PScoop
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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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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Thursday, July 11, 2013

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

Source: Islands Business

(Audio -posted below) From RNZI



News
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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Sunday, June 09, 2013

X-Post: PACNEWS - Australian Defence Encounters New Pacific Realities.

By Michael O’Keefe,
 

  Canberra has turned its attention back to the Pacific. No more potent a symbol of this renewed interest could be found than the Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s visit to Tonga on the eve of releasing the Defence White Paper ‘Defending Australia and its National Interests’.

The fact that Smith was convening the inaugural annual ‘South Pacific’ defence ministers meeting is certainly significant. But there is also substance behind this symbolism. The minister foreshadowed the new Pacific Maritime Security Programme, which replaces the Pacific Patrol Boat Project and forms the centrepiece of Australia’s new Pacific strategy.

Canberra has some catching up to do after years of benign neglect. For over a decade, Australia and its US ally have been focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the ‘War on Terror’. Operations in Afghanistan are winding down and the White Paper is sensitive to the implications of this major shift in tempo.

Australia’s other large and enduring operation in the Solomon Islands is also winding down. RAMSI has been a major bridge to the region and ending this link will have an impact on the Solomons and on Australian defence engagement. The second principal task of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) identified by the White Paper is to “contribute to stability and security in the South Pacific and Timor-Leste”.

Naturally this comes second to providing for the direct defence of Australia. However, it is widely acknowledged that a direct threat is highly unlikely to develop for a generation and therefore the focus on the Pacific gains priority. While the US is pivoting to Northeast Asia to focus on China, Japan and the Koreas, Australia is pivoting back into the Pacific. The challenge for both is that the seascape has changed dramatically in both areas since their attention shifted to the Middle East over a decade ago.

One key strategic shift that links this ‘pivoting’ is that the Pacific is becoming an arena for geopolitical contest between the great powers. Australian and US’ strategic interests may very well overlap in this regard, but Australia is apt to view the Pacific as its backyard rather than simply a venue for strategic competition.

A major stumbling block preventing re-engagement is the continuing diplomatic standoff with Fiji. A key plank in the sanctions regime is a ban on defence cooperation. Historically, Fiji has been Australia’s largest defence cooperation partner in the Pacific and the key to broader regional defence cooperation. This is not simply because of the size and capability of the Fiji Military Forces, but also because of Fiji’s place as a hub for the region.

When an Australian defence attaché arrives in Suva after the elections in 2014, he will find a radically different diplomatic environment than when his predecessor left. The Fijian government has a new-found confidence in its diplomatic affairs and Australia is no longer the dominant military cooperation partner. Countries such as China, Indonesia and Russia have filled the gap in defence training and logistics.

This situation is largely of Australia’s doing and it will be its responsibility to play ‘catch up’. It’s clear from the tone of the White Paper that Australian defence planners are sensitive to the changed dynamics of the region. The aim is not to “control” but to “contribute” to the maintenance of regional security.

Furthermore, the emphasis is on regional security challenges that more reflect the interests of the Pacific countries rather than the orthodoxies underpinning the rest of Australia’s strategy.

Michael O'Keefe

" One key strategic shift that links this ‘pivoting’ is that the Pacific is becoming an arena for geopolitical contest between the great powers. "
Seeing the Pacific through Pacific eyes means that the focus is on maritime security (such as fisheries management and protection), transnational crime (such as human trafficking, people smuggling and drug smuggling) and disaster management (humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and stabilisation).

The new maritime security boat programme neatly captures Australia’s intentions and the potential role Pacific leaders have in shaping it to suit regional interests.

This programme will be the centrepiece of defence cooperation. We have no idea what the boats will look like but the intention is clear.

At one point, the White Paper highlights the role of the Royal Australian Navy amphibious ships in humanitarian assistance, etc, in the Pacific. In contrast, the maritime security boats will be gifted to Pacific Islands states to assist islands nations in protecting their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

The capability of these boats will be defined in the year ahead and there is an opportunity to shape the project to meet the maritime security needs of Pacific Islands states for the next generation. Furthermore, whether the boats gifted to individual islands nations are connected into an integrated regional surveillance network supported by Australian assets (such as maritime patrol aircraft) remains to be seen.

To realise its potential, the gulf that has opened up between supporters of Fiji and supporters of Australia isolating Fiji will need to be bridged. Pacific and Australian leaders will have to navigate their way through the turbulent waters created by the ongoing diplomatic tension.

A significant gap in all the White Papers is that they don’t include implementation strategies and the most challenging issue will be how the defence cooperation with the region can be rebuilt.

The maritime security boat programme is one possible bridge. Another could be in relation to peacekeeping. Only last month, a new arrangement linking the training of Fijian and Papua New Guinean peacekeeping forces was announced.

Peacekeeping is a costly and admirable endeavour and one in which the FMF and ADF have some experience. It would be natural for Fijian participation in operations to expand after 2014 and much work could be done to prepare for this eventuality.

Similarly, military forces have the best training and expansion capacity to respond to complex humanitarian contingencies and coordinating the development of a regional capacity to act swiftly to natural disasters is long overdue.

There is great potential for the White Paper to support enhanced regional defence cooperation, but it has to be
acknowledged that the strategic seascape has changed. Whether it achieves its promise depends on the regional buy-in. Probably more than at any time since the Pacific Islands states gained independence, regional leaders have the capacity to shape the scope of defence cooperation.

• Dr Michael O’Keefe is a Senior Lecturer & Convener at La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia

SOURCE: ISLANDS BUSINESS/PACNEWS

Viewpoint in Islands Business magazine, www.islandsbusiness.com  June 2013 Edition


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

South Pacific Sloganeering: From Arc of Instability To Arc of Opportunity

Radio Australia program Radio National, interviews Australia National University (ANU) Sinclair Dinnen in an episode "Rethinking the South Pacific" and previews the  ANU hosted Feb 8th workshop, that contemplates the question of whether Australia should rethink its approach to the South Pacific and by extension, re-frame the phrase 'Arc of Instability'. Podcast of the radio program (posted below)



(Posted above) Video from Australia National University (ANU) and their academics: Joanne Wallis, Sinclair Dinnen from the College of Asia and the Pacific, reflect on the coined phrase "Arc of Instability" and the genesis of the slogan. The academics also discuss the developments in the  region.

At the backdrop of the academic discussion on Australia approach to the South Pacific, former Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka's talking points, suggests Australia should re-engage diplomatically with Fiji and their poor relationship has ultimately benefited China .

Thursday, January 31, 2013

X-Post : The Strategist - Why Carr Needs The Velvet Glove More Than The Iron Fist.


31 Jan 2013
By Richard Herr
 
"More velvet, eh?"

On my flight home from Fiji recently, I was struck by the continuing negativism of the arguments regarding Australian relations with Fiji. Rowan Callick’s commentary in the Weekend Australian is another example of a tough line on Fiji without any positive proposals. The one element of novelty in Callick’s piece, however, is the suggestion that Carr’s ‘soft’ approach toward the Government of Commodore Voreqe (‘Frank’) Bainimarama is the reason why Fiji has slipped the leash and gone feral recently. But this belies the evidence of the past six years. When has the Bainimarama Government ever been on an Australian leash or even responded positively to pressure from Canberra?

Having viewed the changing events in Fiji fairly closely in a variety of roles over the past six years, I find it difficult to see how the tactics that have failed to have any influence on the course of Fiji’s return to democracy since the December 2006 military coup will work in the 18 months before Fiji is due to go to elections. And this view has been bolstered by a week in Suva talking with a range of people that included participants in the constitutional process, current and former members of Government and academics. More of the same intransigence simply will not to produce a different outcome.

The Bainimarama Government has neither deviated from the roadmap’s timing for the return to democracy that it announced in July 2009 and nor has it altered this timetable since Bob Carr became Foreign Minister. Still, it’s a welcome development that Carr apparently has accepted this—albeit at a fairly low level—but it’s far too late to have the sort of influence that was on offer at the beginning of 2008.

The deepening frustration with Canberra since July 2009 comes from seeing Australian Governments refusing to set incremental steps for returning to a balanced relationship; of being obdurate even to the point of reneging on an agreement. Fiji’s lifting of censorship rules, withdrawal of the public emergency regulations, registering of voters and starting of the constitutional process have all been greeted with ‘not enough’ from Canberra.

The Bainimarama Government nevertheless expected some improvement in relations after the July 2012 tripartite agreement between Australia, Fiji and New Zealand to restore High Commissioners and relax some visa sanctions. However, to its genuine disappointment, many in Government in Suva saw little real change. They smile wryly at Australian critics who interpreted Carr’s expression of understanding over some of the complexities of the drafting of a new constitution as example of unwarranted appeasement.

Understanding scarcely constitutes undeserved compassion in a sanctions regime against Fiji which includes elements that, arguably, would be illegal if applied domestically—such as those against family members of targeted officials. Indeed, within the Fiji Government, the travel sanctions against it are claimed to be more extensive than even those against Mugabe at his worst. Yet, for all their severity, the critics can’t point to a single positive instance where these sanctions have hastened the return to democracy in Fiji by so much as a day.


Richard Herr


" Whether anyone one in Canberra wants to admit it, Australia has suffered a retreat from influence within our region and its institutions; a decline of support from our neighbours in the United Nations; and diminished respect from key allies in the South Pacific on regional affairs."
Seen from the Suva perspective, there hasn’t been a skerrick of public encouragement to mark the passing of the roadmap’s milestones to elections. The most recent disappointment was the denial of a visa to Aisake Taito, the chief executive of the Fiji National Provident Fund (a Government enterprise) and Bainimarama’s brother-in-law, who was to make a business trip to Australia at the end of December. Suva saw this as a clear breach of the July 2012 tripartite agreement. According to one commentator, it’s now highly likely that the Government’s response will be to refuse Margaret Twomey a chance to present her credentials as the first Australian High Commissioner to Fiji since James Batley was expelled in November 2009.

Whether anyone one in Canberra wants to admit it, Australia has suffered a retreat from influence within our region and its institutions; a decline of support from our neighbours in the United Nations; and diminished respect from key allies in the South Pacific on regional affairs. These foreign policy consequences for the contretemps between Australia and Fiji shouldn’t be used to excuse the weaknesses in the political processes of Fiji today but the critics, especially those so vocal in the Australian media, should be consistent in their expectations.

Even supporters of the Bainimarama Government have been disappointed that it hasn’t taken every opportunity to demonstrate the bona fides of its professed reformist goals. This includes, most recently, aspects of the constitutional process and the edict regulating political parties as well as a renewed activism by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. Nevertheless, the present Government is the only game in town at least until 2014. Canberra needs to recognise this even as its South Pacific allies have already done. Moreover, Canberra needs to recognise and address the fact that Fiji has its own complaints against Australia.

It’s impossible to prove that a gentler, more engaged approach to the Bainimarama Government would have accelerated the return to democracy or made the path to democracy smoother. What’s undeniable is that the hard line approach advocated by critics over the years hasn’t prevented any of the adverse consequences of the toxic political relationship between the two countries. Indeed, it has contributed demonstrably to these outcomes. Failing to reset policy settings with regard to Fiji until ‘after free and fair elections in 2014’ merely demonstrates this ineffectiveness. Worse, where does Canberra go when elections are held under a constitution it regards as flawed by a process it deems biased? Does Australia rail against the result as not ‘free and fair’ and so maintain the sanctions that have had no effect?

It’s far too late to expect any great Australian influence on Suva’s charted course to the 2014 elections. But there’s much to be done to assist technically with the preparations for them, if Bainimarama will accept help now. If not, it’s still essential to prepare the ground for more effective relations after the elections. Hectoring from the bunkers is not only a demonstration of impotence; it is also preparing a grave for future relations.

Richard Herr is honorary director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs, University of Fiji. Some of these themes will be explored more fully with regards to the broader implications for Australia’s security interests in Melanesia at RUSI’s forthcoming 2nd International Defence and Security Dialogue. Image courtesy of Flickr user Asia Society.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

X-Post: Stop NATO - Pentagon Eyes More Military Bases In Australia


Source:  Stop NATO
November 13, 2012 

News Analysis: U.S. eyes Australian military bases
By Christian Edwards Xinhua News Agency
====
A U.S. presence in the Pacific has been the bedrock of Australia’s security posture, and in return Australia has participated in every one of the U.S. foreign military adventures, from the Korea Peninsula, through Vietnam into Iraq, the “war on terror” and Afghanistan. By 2016 there will be 2,500 U.S. marines at Darwin, U.S. air force elements based in Katherine, and an increased presence in Australian ports.
In an unnerving development the Gillard government is reportedly considering making the Cocos Islands available to the U. S. as a base for both drones and troops.
“The Americans wanted Australian soldiers in Iraq, and they got it. They wanted a defense trade controls treaty that shackles Australian research, and they got it. They wanted marines based at Darwin, and they got it.
“We suspect they want an expanded presence at HMAS Stirling naval base, access to air bases in the north of WA, and basing facilities for drones in the Indian Ocean – what’s next?”
====
PERTH: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now in Western Australia’s capital Perth for an important annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultation (AUSMIN). Tonight Australian and U.S. officials dine in the splendor of a state reception, tomorrow Clinton and Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr will meet to ponder the future of the alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Since 1951, the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty, or the ANZUS Treaty, has bound these two countries (far better than ANZUS has bound New Zealand) in military and strategic mutual arrangements. A U.S. presence in the Pacific has been the bedrock of Australia’s security posture, and in return Australia has participated in every one of the U.S. foreign military adventures, from the Korea Peninsula, through Vietnam into Iraq, the “war on terror” and Afghanistan.

Officially, the U.S. describes these so-called AUSMIN talks, held annually since 1985, as “a valuable opportunity for Australian and U.S. officials to discuss a wide range of global, regional and bilateral issues.” Unofficially it is difficult to know exactly what the U.S. wants out of Australia and even less about how it will set about getting it.

Undeniably it has been an exciting year for the moveable feast that is the Australia-U.S. military relationship.
President Barack Obama’s announcement in Canberra last November of the stationing (or “rotation” as Carr emphasized to Xinhua at the time) of 2,500 U.S. marines in Darwin caught analysts off guard. Suddenly and startlingly for Australia, the U.S. shifted its strategic gaze from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific and has begun to scratch the growing itch produced of the rise of the twin superpowers in China and India.

AUSMIN 2012 will be an opportunity for the Americans to get down to brass tacks on Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” and what it means for an Australia looking to strengthen ties with its neighbors in the “Asian Century”.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says it will be money or the lack of it in Australia’s defense policy that will be foremost in the mind of Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

According to Jennings, “Based on recent visits to the U.S., I can confirm that a wide range of current and previous administration officials and others watching the relationship are worried about Australian policy.”
“Americans are dismayed that there has been such a quick reversal of Australian defense spending plans from 2009 to now,” he said. Jennings suggests that the U.S. is worried about the tone of Australian commentary, led by analysts like Professor Hugh White who has championed the concept of shared power within the Asia Pacific by the U.S. and China.“They worry about Australian commentary saying we should distance ourselves from the U.S. in order to get closer to China and are concerned that the Asian Century White Paper, with its cursory treatment of the U.S., is a big step in that direction.”

There is good reason for hesitation in Australia. Despite a Lowy Institute Poll that almost three quarters of Australians were in favor of U.S. military deployments in Darwin, there is concern that such a deployment could become a slippery slope. By 2016 there will be 2,500 U.S. marines at Darwin, U.S. air force elements based in Katherine, and an increased presence in Australian ports.

Just three months ago, Australia’s Defense Minister Stephen Smith found himself deflecting reports of a U.S. nuclear carrier fleet basing in Perth. Last month, it was revealed that an unmanned American Global Hawk spy drone had been flying in and out of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Edinburgh in South Australia since 2001.In an unnerving development the Gillard government is reportedly considering making the Cocos Islands available to the U. S. as a base for both drones and troops. Australia’s neighbors have so far chosen not to respond to what is clearly a growing U.S. military presence Down Under.

When President Obama announced the use of Darwin as a training base for U.S. marines, Chinese and Indonesian officials expressed dismay, citing that such a build up could easily trigger a regional “circle of mistrust and tension”. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa called for “transparency of what the scenario being envisaged is”.

The problem for Australia is that the true nature, extent and objectives of the U.S. “pivot to Asia” are largely unknown. Like the Hawk spy drone operating in Australian territory for over a decade, negotiations are held in secrecy and little has been made public about what Prime Minister Julia Gillard described as the ” medium-term cooperation on ships and aviation.”

The Australian Greens today demanded the release of the legal agreement underpinning the increased U.S. military presence in Australia. Australian Greens spokesperson assisting on defense, Senator for Western Australia (WA) Scott Ludlam, said that U.S.-Australian defense deals were oblique and had been “a one-way street” for too long. “The Americans wanted Australian soldiers in Iraq, and they got it. They wanted a defense trade controls treaty that shackles Australian research, and they got it. They wanted marines based at Darwin, and they got it,” he said. “We suspect they want an expanded presence at HMAS Stirling naval base, access to air bases in the north of WA, and basing facilities for drones in the Indian Ocean – what’s next?”

Ludlum said the 2010 deal that outlines the rights, role, and responsibilities of U.S. forces in Australia is “being kept secret ” from the Australian public. “For two years the government denied it existed, now they won’t tell the Australian people what’s in it,” he said. “The agreement that governs this militarization is to be withheld, presumably until such time as it is leaked in the public interest – it’s an extraordinary insult to Australian sovereignty. “

Meanwhile Defense Minister Stephen Smith will be preparing to face some tough questions from Clinton and her team when the AUSMIN discussions begin in Perth on Nov. 14. According to Peter Jennings, the Australians will be expected to do their bit. “Although they may not bluntly say so, many of the Americans knowledgeable about Australia think that we are ‘off the reservation’ on strategic policy right now,” he said.

With the release in Australia of the Asian Century White Paper last month, Australian officials may not have too much of an appetite at tonight’s state reception – between the concerns of their neighbors, the Australian public and an American ally determined to ensure things go their way in the Asia Pacific there is very little room for compromise.

More information: 
SMH article
US Secretary Of State speech at Perth USASIA Centre

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