Showing posts with label Australia hegemony. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australia hegemony. Show all posts

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.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

X-Post: Inside Story- Stopping The Cheques.

Nauru’s president Baron Waqa with prime minister Tony Abbott at this month’s CHOGM meeting in Colombo.
Robert Schmidt/ AFP

Source: Inside Story

STANDING on the podium in Warsaw this week, president Baron Waqa of Nauru wasn’t mincing his words. “Many of the countries most responsible for climate change are retreating from their moral responsibility and obligation to act,” he said. “Consequently, we are lacking the urgent ambition required to lower emissions in the short time we have to avert catastrophe.”

This year’s global climate negotiations haven’t gone well. The Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, is angry that many developed nations are abandoning pledges to provide financial support for the most vulnerable islands affected by global warming. Speaking on behalf of this forty-three-member bloc, Waqa stressed the vital role of climate finance in responding to the climate emergency. “We are missing the all-embracing idea of human solidarity that underpins the concept of ‘loss and damage,’” he said, referring to the devastation to land, water supply, agriculture and infrastructure caused by delays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the failure to fund the necessary adaptation.

Leading the retreat at Warsaw is the Australian government. In December last year, the Coalition’s shadow climate minister, Greg Hunt, said that an Abbott government would not give a “blank cheque” to cover loss and damage. Now, as federal environment minister (“climate” having been removed from the title), Hunt has refused to attend the Warsaw negotiations and is making good on his pledge to stop the cheques.
At this month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, the Abbott government ditched Australia’s pledge to contribute to the Green Climate Fund, an innovative new funding mechanism for dealing with the effects of climate change.

In their final communique, the CHOGM leaders “recognised the importance attached to both the operationalisation and the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund.” But a footnote recorded that “Australia and Canada had reservations about the language of paragraphs 18, 19, 20 and 21 and indicated that they could not support a Green Capital [sic] Fund at this time.”
Hunt made clear in December last year that the Coalition wouldn’t support this multilateral body. “This is not a fund which we support. We have no control over where the money goes, no control over how it’s used, no control over how much we pay and this is something which we clearly, simply, categorically reject.” At the time, international observers were astounded by the chutzpah of this statement. Australia had played a central role in the creation of the fund, with AusAID’s deputy director-general, Ewen McDonald, appointed co-chair of the Fund’s board for its first year of operation. Australian officials have played a crucial role in determining the Fund’s mandate, operations and policies.

In Warsaw, Australian negotiators also disrupted talks on the “loss and damage” agenda, leading to a walkout by the “G77 plus China” delegates, the 132-member bloc currently chaired by Fiji. As noted climate researcher Saleemul Huq told the Guardian, “Discussions were going well in a spirit of cooperation, but at the end of the session on loss and damage Australia put everything agreed into brackets, so the whole debate went to waste.”
At a time of diplomatic turmoil with Indonesia, these attacks on climate finance, coupled with recent cuts in the aid program, will have long-term strategic implications for Australia’s relationship with Pacific island neighbours. Although Australia remains the major provider of aid, trade and military cooperation in the Pacific islands region, the days when it could use aid to call the shots are long gone. The old relationship is no longer the only game in town: in the same month that Canberra overturned Australia’s policy on climate finance, China announced US$1 billion in concessional loans for the Pacific islands.

Alongside China’s increasing diplomatic influence in the Pacific, a range of other players – from Cuba, Russia and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates – are complicating policy in the islands for the ANZUS allies. With larger countries like Papua New Guinea and Fiji taking more assertive regional and international roles, many Australians underestimate the rapidity of change in our region. The latest cuts in aid and climate finance can only accelerate that process.

SINCE Copenhagen in 2009, OECD nations have pledged funds for adaptation and mitigation initiatives in the developing world. Thirty billion dollars was committed for fast-start financing in 2010–13, and the agreed target for 2020 is an annual US$100 billion of public and private funds.
But many obstacles already stand between these funds and the most vulnerable communities, including the inadequacy of funding pledges, the balance between money allocated for adaptation or mitigation, a lack of donor coordination, the complexity of funding mechanisms and the special vulnerability of small island developing states and least-developed countries – countries that barely contribute to global greenhouse emissions.

“Approved [climate] finance for projects in the region’s most vulnerable countries, particularly the small Pacific island states, has been modest,” reports the Overseas Development Institute. “Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu cumulatively receive only 4 per cent (USD $83 million) of the total amount approved in the Asia-Pacific region, mostly for adaptation activities.” Funding cuts will just make the shortfall more serious for countries like these.

The cuts can’t be justified by arguing that small island states have a limited capacity to manage aid flows. Australian officials and non-government organisations have been working with the Pacific Islands Forum to establish systems to manage resources effectively and avoid corruption and mismanagement. The Forum secretariat has completed a major study on climate funds in Nauru and published reports on better practice in the region, and last year Oxfam published a report (on which I was the lead researcher) examining regional efforts to strengthen governance of climate adaptation finance.

Beyond this, many of the problems in accessing climate finance lie with the practices of key donors and multilateral organisations. Acknowledging this problem, a June 2012 World Bank report pointed out that “the institutional rigidity of donor organisations makes cooperation and partnership more difficult… Joint programming of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction activities by donors and implementing agencies is not widespread.”

Nic Maclellan

" Alongside China’s increasing diplomatic influence in the Pacific, a range of other players – from Cuba, Russia and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates – are complicating policy in the islands for the ANZUS allies. With larger countries like Papua New Guinea and Fiji taking more assertive regional and international roles, many Australians underestimate the rapidity of change in our region. "

Since 2010, Australia’s fast-start funding for climate adaptation and mitigation has been drawn from the aid budget. With the aid program expanding in those years, and a bipartisan commitment to increase official development assistance to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015, Pacific governments have been reluctant to criticise Australian policy. (Island officials believe, for example, that climate financing was supposed to be “new and additional” to resources allocated for addressing poverty, health, education and women’s empowerment, but they haven’t chosen to make an issue of the fact.)

The decision to abandon the 2015 aid target began under the Gillard government. Labor foreign minister Bob Carr diverted $375 million of aid funds in 2012–13 – funds for humanitarian and emergency responses, women’s programs, agriculture and rural development – to pay for asylum seeker processing. But the Abbott government is going further and faster. Since coming to office, the Coalition has made three key changes to the aid program: cutting $4.5 billion over four years by reversing planned increases in the aid budget; abolishing the aid agency AusAID as a statutory agency and merging its functions into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and proposing cuts in the number of experienced staff charged with making sure taxpayer funds are well spent.

Under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Labor met its target of A$599 million of fast-start climate finance in 2010–13. But our fair share of the global target of US$100 billion by 2020 is estimated at $2.4 billion a year, an amount that would require a dramatic shift of attitude within the Coalition.

RECENT announcements about aid and climate finance come at a time when Pacific regionalism is being transformed. Australia’s long-held influence in the Pacific Islands Forum is being eroded by new trends in aid, trade and investment. Pacific governments are diversifying their political and economic links beyond the regional groupings that dominated islands politics throughout the cold war years.

Today, Forum countries are showing growing interest in South–South cooperation and engagement with new partners. Fiji’s coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama has been a key player in this regional realignment. Bainimarama has argued that Pacific nations need an independent grouping outside the Pacific Islands Forum. “We must insist that our voice be heard and heeded,” he has said. “We will dine at the table; we will not be content to pick at the crumbs that remain on the table cloth after the decisions are made and dinner is over.”

With Fiji suspended from Forum and Commonwealth activities since 2009, Bainimarama initiated the “Engaging with the Pacific” meetings in 2010 as a counterpoint to the Forum. In August 2013, these meetings morphed into the Pacific Islands Development Forum, a new regional summit which provides both a mechanism for debate about sustainable development and an alternative meeting place for governments, business and civil society. Over time, the new grouping may evolve into a venue for inter-island dialogue without Forum members Australia and New Zealand in the room.

These trends are also evident globally, reflecting the growing links between the Forum’s island countries and Asian powers. As relations with Canberra and Wellington have soured since the 2006 coup, Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, established diplomatic relations with a range of key developing nations, and opened new embassies in Brazil, South Africa, Korea and Abu Dhabi.

In 2011, the Asia Group within the United Nations formally changed its name to the Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Islands Developing States. (With Tony Abbott stressing Australia’s links with Anglosphere partners in Washington, Wellington and Ottawa, it’s worth remembering that Australia is part of the UN Western European and Others Group, rather than the Asia-Pacific group.)

The Bainimarama regime’s repression of trade unions, limits on political parties and delays in constitutional and electoral reform have not hampered Fiji’s regional and international influence. This year, Fiji has served as chair of the G77 plus China grouping in the United Nations, an unprecedented role for an islands nation. As Fiji’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson, said in May, “The G77 is the most appropriate international grouping for countries such as Fiji, Kiribati and other PSIDS” – Pacific Small Island Developing States – “to advance the development of their economic agendas in the global context.”

Papua New Guinea is also playing a more independent role in regional politics, reflecting its size as a dynamic, populous nation near the borders of Asia. It is the only Pacific island nation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping, or APEC, and is seeking full membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With major reserves of timber, fisheries and minerals and new projects to export oil and liquefied natural gas, Papua New Guinea has the potential to influence neighbouring atoll nations.

Attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro last September, PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said his country will embark on a program of regional assistance with various countries in the Pacific. From next year, the PNG government will introduce a special budget allocation to fund a regional development assistance program. In Majuro, O’Neill increased climate funds to the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati, and pledged funds for Fiji’s 2014 elections.

Seizing the moment, China is using loans and investment to expand its diplomatic influence in the region, erode longstanding island ties to Taiwan and blunt US regional influence. According to China’s foreign ministry, “developing friendly cooperation with the Pacific island countries is part of the long-term strategy guideline of China’s diplomacy” and “a role model for South–South cooperation.”

Meeting Pacific leaders in Guangzhou on 8 November, the Chinese government announced a range of loans, grants and scholarships for island nations. Vice-premier Wang Yang announced that China will provide US$1 billion in concessional loans for Pacific island nations to support construction projects. (A loans facility will especially benefit Papua New Guinea and Fiji, where major oil, gas and seabed mining projects are proposed.) A further $1 billion in non-concessional financing would be made available by the China Development Bank.

At a time when Australia is abandoning increases in overseas development aid, the Chinese government is stressing its diplomatic commitment to the region: “China is a reliable and sincere friend and a dependable cooperative partner of the Pacific island countries.” It will build medical facilities and send medical teams to island nations, as well as investing in green energy projects. Beijing will also provide 2000 scholarships over four years to add to the 3600 Pacific officials and technicians who have already received training in China in recent years.

Canberra’s fixation on the carbon tax and domestic climate policies, meanwhile, is overshadowing these regional and international developments. Although Australia remains the largest aid donor in the islands region, the Coalition government is fundamentally transforming our capacity to deliver development assistance in ways that address core regional concerns over poverty, infrastructure, water and food security. And as we move towards a global climate treaty and a summit to replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, there are plenty of other players who are stepping up to engage with our island neighbours. •

Nic Maclellan works as a journalist and researcher in the Pacific islands, and is a correspondent for Islands Business magazine.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

X-Post : Geopolitics of Racism: The NSA and the 'Five Eyes' Network.

Source: Huffington Post

Posted: 11/02/2013 10:03 pm

As Edward Snowden's disclosures continue to reverberate, the racist contours of geopolitics are becoming ever clearer. According to recent reporting, the Anglo, English-speaking countries of the world, including the U.S. and its allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, jointly participate in a spy group called the "Five Eyes" network. Though the classic age of imperialism has long since ended, revelations from the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal suggest that whiter nations of the world continue to harbor a deep and abiding distrust of poorer nations and people of color.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mereani Gonedua

 Radio Tarana Full Interview

Part 1 MP3 (posted below)

Part 2 MP3 (posted below)

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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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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 .

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

X-Post: WSWS - Australian Government Prepares “Transition” for Solomon Islands Intervention

By Patrick O’Connor
13 November 2012
Source: WSWS
The Australian Labor government is preparing to modify its flagship neo-colonial intervention in the South Pacific, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Nearly 10 years after first dispatching hundreds of troops, federal police and government officials to take over the impoverished country’s state apparatus, Canberra is winding down RAMSI’s military component. The “transition” is aimed at ensuring the continued domination of Australian imperialism over political and economic life in the Solomon Islands.

RAMSI involves personnel from different Pacific countries, but is controlled by Australia. There are currently fewer than 100 Australian soldiers on Solomon Islands, nearly 200 Australian Federal Police (AFP) and more than 100 civilian personnel, including officials working in key positions within the legal system, finance and treasury departments, and other parts of the public service. All have immunity from local laws.

The RAMSI operation commenced in July 2003, with the former Australian government of Prime Minister John Howard intervening in violation of international and Solomon Islands’ law. Cloaked in humanitarian claims about putting an end to civil conflict, the predatory operation was centrally aimed at bolstering Canberra’s hegemony in the South Pacific and shutting out rival powers from its “patch”, amid heightened geo-strategic rivalries across the region. The Australian government disarmed the Solomons’ police force and took control of its prison and judicial systems, central bank and finance department, and the public service.
Now, in the most significant recasting of the operation since its inception, RAMSI’s military component will be withdrawn in the second half of 2013. Also next year, RAMSI will no longer have its own “development” agenda. Instead, aid and other programs will be run bilaterally, via the Australian High Commission in Honiara. RAMSI’s policing component, the Participating Police Force, will continue operations at least until 2014, and likely for much longer than that.

The “transition” is being accompanied by rhetoric from the Solomon Islands government of Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo about the need to prepare for the eventual withdrawal of the entire intervention force.
In reality, the Australian government has no perspective of ever leaving the Solomons. Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited RAMSI headquarters in August and declared: “Australia is going to be here to help Solomon Islands and its people for as long as they need our help ... We’re not going to withdraw. And RAMSI’s police function is going to continue for a long time after the military function is phased out.”

None of the underlying strategic issues that triggered Canberra’s decision to intervene in 2003 have been resolved. China enjoys closer diplomatic, economic and military ties with many South Pacific states than it did a decade ago. Moreover, the Obama administration’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, involving an aggressive drive to contain Chinese influence, has placed further pressure on Canberra to fulfil the task assigned to it by Washington ever since the end of World War II—that of shutting out rival powers from the region.
The modifications to RAMSI are aimed at making the intervention force more cost efficient. For some time, RAMSI troops have comprised mostly reservists, and their Solomons’ deployments have functioned as expensive training exercises.

Patrick O'Connor - On RAMSI

" Cloaked in humanitarian claims about putting an end to civil conflict, the predatory operation was centrally aimed at bolstering Canberra’s hegemony in the South Pacific and shutting out rival powers from its “patch”, amid heightened geo-strategic rivalries across the region. "
The AFP has long been Canberra’s primary enforcer on the ground in the Solomons, including its heavily armed paramilitary wing, the International Deployment Group. The federal police were centrally involved in the Australian government’s 2006-2007 regime change operation against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that included the persecution of his attorney general, Julian Moti. Sogavare and Moti were targeted after being perceived as threats to RAMSI’s untrammelled dominance in the country.
Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith, touring the Solomons in April, said the “orderly drawdown” of soldiers would leave “the very strong presence” of the AFP, which would “continue to be on the ground for any required response.” Smith added that the Labor government was looking to a new “defence cooperation program” in the Solomons, potentially involving regular Australian military visits or exercises.
Contingency plans are no doubt in place for a renewed military intervention in the event that Canberra regards its strategic position under threat.

It remains unclear how many, if any, of the Australian officials now implanted in different parts of the Solomons’ state apparatus will be withdrawn as part of the “transition”. So-called development assistance, which has included the lucrative salaries of AFP officers and RAMSI personnel—classified as Australian “aid”—will be removed from the intervention force’s brief. But RAMSI Special Coordinator Nicholas Coppel indicated this would allow for greater control from Canberra. “It’s been difficult to do very long term development assistance work when its horizon has been limited to a four-year budget cycle in Australia,” he stated. “Moving development assistance across to our normal AusAID bilateral program enables us to do much more long term planning for Solomon Islands.”

One of the aims of the RAMSI “transition” is to boost Australian corporate investment. Coppel told the Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum in Brisbane last month that the changes marked “a clear signal that Solomon Islands is back in business” and demonstrated that the country’s economy would no longer be dominated by “an interventionist, post-conflict model of development assistance.”

Mining activity is being stepped up across the Solomons. A small Australian mining company, Allied Gold, now operates the Gold Ridge mine on Guadalcanal Island. Another Australian company, Axiom Mining, plans to soon begin work in Santa Isabel on one of the world’s largest nickel deposits, worth an estimated $60 billion. Mining companies from Britain, South Africa and Japan are exploring for gold, nickel, copper and other reserves, including on the seafloor. From the beginning, RAMSI was developed with an eye to ensuring that Australian transnational corporations received top priority in plundering Solomon Islands’ natural resources.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Strategist

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

US, China Aim to Boost Pacific Influence

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

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

Saturday, August 04, 2012

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

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

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

Patrick O’Connor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:  WSWS

Friday, August 03, 2012

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

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

Richard Herr & Anthony Bergin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

X-Post: Stephen Franks- Backdown On Fiji Called A “Thaw”

  • July 31st, 2012
If you follow this blog you read in May about the 'thaw" reported today on Stuff.
No sign yet of our democracy working to ask how to avoid such bipartisan stupidity again.
Presumably the lack of leaks from  demoralised MFAT folk, blaming their political masters, means they were equally if not more culpable.
The most worrying sign of our vulnerability to bad judgment on matters foreign  is in the continuing lack of MSM exploration of why this debacle  went unchallenged. I suspect a shared chattering class eagerness to treat good intentions as sufficient for policy formation.

Source: Stephen

Further reading:


SiFM:  Stratfor Video Brief: Australia's Bending Foreign Policy

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Bohemian Grove, Bob Carr & Fiji’s Beta Democracy

 (Click above to hear the audio on the Radio Australia interview with Bob Carr, discussing Fiji)
Unelected Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, was interviewed by Radio Australia regarding the upcoming meeting with his New Zealand, Fiji counterparts in Sydney on July 3oth 2012. In the interview,  Carr was hesitant to acknowledge Fiji's progress towards democracy  and would relax sanctions once irreversible progress towards democracy has been attained. The interviewer alluded that Carr wanted a more accelerated pace in Fiji's efforts.

It appears a scripted good cop-bad cop scenario has been mapped out.

New Zealand is acting out the good cop- recently investigating a conspiracy to assassinate Fiji's Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, involving  the fugitive and nemesis Roko Ului Mara, raided the home of a former SDL politician in New Zealand and softened the travel sanctions.

Playing the 'bad cop' -Bob Carr, the Australian Foreign Minister's new tact- shift the proverbial goal posts towards the Utopian end of the democracy spectrum.

Bob Carr and Henry Kissinger, in San Francisco, California.

The planned meeting in Sydney was to update the Australian Foreign Minister on Fiji's progress towards democracy; since Carr was too busy in secret talks with his handlers at the controversial Bohemian Grove  as outlined in a posting in his own blog.

The irony of the unelected Bob Carr discussing Fiji's democracy, meeting with a U.S Presidential contender, co-mingling with Henry Kissinger, Condoleeza Rice and other neo-conservative stalwarts of the same ilk is astonishing.

The question is worth asking -what was secretly discussed in Bohemian Grove, that involved Fiji, Pacific geopolitics and other world affairs, that is presently changing with break neck speed?

Bob Carr's recent remarks on Radio Australia, dismissed any proposals for Australia to become a broker in the South China Sea dispute; may just have been policy skulduggery, handed down to him at Monte Rio, Sonoma County. Is Australia's Foreign Policy formulated in the Bohemian Grove? Carr's response to a blog comment in his blog is self explanatory, "I don't write the rules. But have a job to do for Australia".

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