Showing posts with label Fiji diplomacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiji diplomacy. 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

Monday, January 13, 2014

X-Post: Grubsheet - A Melanesian Minefield

Source: Grubsheet

MSG Foreign Ministers with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (front in orange shirt)
MSG Foreign Ministers with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (front in orange shirt)

Foreign Ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group are set to tip-toe through a diplomatic minefield with news that a MSG delegation – led by Fiji’s Ratu Inoke Kubuabola – will make its long-awaited visit to the Indonesian province of West Papua this week.
The mission is fraught with potential difficulty and will require all the diplomatic skills the Ministers can muster as they walk a tightrope between the intense sensitivity of their Indonesian hosts and the equally intense expectations of their Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua.
Ratu Inoke is famed for his own political dexterity – a man who has been able to weather successive upheavals in Fijian politics and still be at the centre of decision-making. So arguably no one is better placed to lead this delegation to West Papua and bring it back without fracturing relationships on either side. The stakes are high and the pitfalls perilous.  It will be one of the toughest assignments Ratu Inoke has ever undertaken, arguably more so than his patient to-ing and fro-ing with the recalcitrant Australians and New Zealanders on behalf of the Bainimarama Government.  Yet, once again, Fiji has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership, judgment and wisdom, not only in our own foreign policy but on behalf of all Melanesians, including the people of West Papua. So our best wishes go with him as he tackles one of the biggest challenges of his diplomatic career.

Put simply, the indigenous people of West Papua regard themselves – quite rightly – as being as Melanesian as their kin across the border in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji – the existing members of the MSG. Yet they now find themselves outnumbered in their own country by the Javanese and other Indonesian ethnic groups that have flooded into West Papua since what was then a Dutch colony was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1961. That invasion took place in highly controversial circumstances and amid an international outcry. It was eventually agreed that the United Nations oversee a plebiscite of the people of West Papua to finally decide their future. They were given two choices – to remain part of Indonesia or to become an independent nation. But while this vote was officially described as “An Act of Free Choice”, it was conducted not by a poll of the entire population but of about 1,000 men selected by the Indonesian military.

This group – described at the time as a consensus of elders – was allegedly coerced into unanimously voting to remain part of Indonesia. And ever since, the result has been rejected by Papuan nationalists, who established what they called the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The OPM ran a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Indonesian administration over the years in which many thousands of people were killed on both sides. And while this has since tapered off, the independence movement has continued, mainly through peaceful protest and a campaign of international lobbying.

The main pro-independence group now is the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation ( WPNCL) – an umbrella group of several bodies – with a leadership largely outside the country – in Vanuatu, the United States and Europe. This group has now made a formal application to join the MSG and in doing so, has given the regional grouping a massive headache. It can’t really say no altogether because it has already admitted the FLNKS, which is not a Melanesian country but the pro-independence movement in New Caledonia, once a French territory and still part of the French Republic, though with a degree of internal autonomy as a “Special Collectivity” of France. The people of New Caledonia are due to be given a vote on full independence from France sometime between now and 2018. But the people of West Papua are in a completely different situation.

Graham Davis

" The tenor of these meetings will be crucial. Neither side wants a showdown over West Papua and both will be working hard to ensure a successful outcome. But it is a challenging prospect indeed to expect the Indonesians to accept West Papua joining the MSG, except as part of the Indonesian Republic, which currently has observer status at the MSG. "
Indonesia regards West Papua as one of its provinces and an integral part of the nation, as integral as Java, Sumatra or anywhere else.  It says it will never countenance independence and fights the notion at every turn, regarding it as a threat to national sovereignty. Part of its sensitivity lies in the humiliating manner in which it was forced to surrender East Timor, which it invaded and took from the Portuguese in 1975, but lost in 1999 after a bloody guerrilla war and a similar United Nations vote, though one carried out properly. In the interim, Indonesia has evolved from a military dictatorship into a robust democracy. Yet the Indonesian military still sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the country’s territorial integrity and cracks down hard on any expression of dissidence or revolt over its hold on West Papua.

For Fiji and the other MSG countries, negotiating a way through this minefield is naturally going to be extremely challenging. Philosophically, they cannot exclude a substantial Melanesian population whose representatives want to join the organisation. But neither can they – nor do they want to -upset or damage the relationship of the MSG countries with Indonesia. That relationship ranges from excellent – in the case of Fiji – to somewhat strained, in the case of Vanuatu, which has close ties to the West Papuan leaders in exile, provides them with a base and has strongly argued their case in global forums such as the United Nations. So in essence, the door has to be kept open to both the Indonesian leadership in Jakarta and the leaders of the West Papuan independence movement, a considerable challenge that now rests at the feet of the MSG Foreign Ministers and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in particular.

At the MSG summit meeting in Noumea last June, the MSG leaders decided to send a delegation led by Ratu Inoke to Indonesia for talks on the membership application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation. It’s taken more than six months of delicate negotiations to organise but finally, Jakarta issued a formal invitation for the mission to proceed. On Tuesday (Jan 11th), Ratu Inoke will begin sitting down in the Indonesian capital flanked by the Foreign Ministers of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, a Special Envoy from Vanuatu and a senior representative of the FLNKS, which is the current chair of the MSG. In a clear sign of how seriously the Indonesians are taking the mission, across the table from them will be the senior leadership – including the President of the Republic, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa.

The tenor of these meetings will be crucial. Neither side wants a showdown over West Papua and both will be working hard to ensure a successful outcome. But it is a challenging prospect indeed to expect the Indonesians to accept West Papua joining the MSG, except as part of the Indonesian Republic, which currently has observer status at the MSG. Can a formula be hammered out for the Province to join as a full member, just as the Kanaks of New Caledonia have full membership but France doesn’t? Would the pro-independence exiles accept this? Can they be brought into the tent to both the satisfaction of Indonesia, themselves and the MSG? These are all imponderables at the present time yet must logically be in the mix if a successful outcome is to be achieved.

After these talks will come the most sensitive part of the visit, when Ratu Inoke and the other Foreign Ministers travel from Jakarta to West Papua itself. Their official program for the two day visit hasn’t been officially released. Yet there’s no doubt that the pro-independence lobby sees the visit as a golden opportunity to press its case. A senior West Papuan activist, Octovianus Mote, was recently in Fiji lobbying on behalf of the WPNCL. He said the Movement was “thrilled” that the MSG Foreign Ministers would be coming to the Province and pledged that thousands of Melanesians would turn out to line the road from the airport to welcome them. Just how the Indonesian security forces will respond remains to be seen. But the record shows that they give short shrift to any public manifestation of Melanesian nationalism and especially the raising of the Free West Papuan flag. Octovianus Mote said this would definitely happen at some stage during the visit.  The MSG Foreign Ministers will be dearly hoping for restraint on both sides.

In his official announcement of the visit, Ratu Inoke appeared to play down the prospects of any dramatic outcome, stressing cooperation with the Indonesian Government and ruling out any prospect of supporting independence for the Province.“We are happy to undertake this important visit at the invitation of the Indonesian Government to be able to assess the application by WPNCL to become a member of the MSG to enable us to present a recommendation to our Leaders,” Ratu Inoke said. “ (But) we fully respect Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and we further recognise that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia. The visit will provide the opportunity to learn firsthand about the situation in West Papua and understand the aspirations of our fellow Melanesian brothers and sisters in Papua with regards to their representation by WPNCL to become a member of the MSG.”

So a softly, softly, vaka malua, approach to this most sensitive of issues – the Foreign Minister and his MSG colleagues desperately hoping their visit passes off without incident and that the whole conundrum can eventually be resolved through patient negotiation and dialogue. From where Fiji sits, it is certainly not the time for rash provocations on the part of the separatist movement, nor a heavy handed, repressive response on the part of the Indonesian security forces. The leitmotif of Fiji’s foreign policy under the Bainimarama Government is to be “friends to all” and that includes both Indonesia and our Melanesian neighbours. Ratu Inoke will certainly be approaching his mission in that spirit and the whole nation will be hoping that he can succeed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fiji Foreign Minister Hints Of Not Returning To The Commonwealth.

Fiji's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola hinted at Fiji's intent, with regards to returning to the fold of the Commonwealth Group of nations. In a response to the statement by the Commonwealth Heads Of Government (CHOG), regarding Fiji's continued suspension, Kubuabola stated in a Fiji Sun article, “Fiji does not need the Commonwealth because it is irrelevant.”

Although, the CHOG leader's statement pledged “unwavering solidarity with the people of Fiji and their expectation of Fiji's reinstatement as a full member of the Commonwealth family”, the caveat in the CHOG statement was explicit in that, reinstatement would only occur, "through the restoration of constitutional civilian democracy and the rule of law and human rights”.

Kubuabola mentioned, “We are really not over eager to go back to the Commonwealth and we're not asking to go back to the Commonwealth." Fiji's reluctance to be re-admitted to the Commonwealth closely follows in the wake of Gambia's withdrawal from the Colonial era institution.

The Gambian Government's statement  of withdrawal was scathing: "[The] government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism." Whether Fiji shared Gambia's view of the Commonwealth is another question worth considering.

In the African Review article, Trevor Analo highlights the growing perception about the Commonwealth:
“Many people have derided the Commonwealth as an out-dated institution that has no role to play in the modern world. It is seen as an ineffective, powerless and expensive talking shop that does nothing useful except pass resolutions on democracy and human rights.”
American Street News analyst Sam Phatey, explained what the Gambia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth means and what the tangible benefits being a member of the Commonwealth really offers:
“ The recent withdrawal of The Gambia from the Commonwealth of Nations will not only affect The Gambia but has an impact on the Commonwealth has a whole. It is a call for the Commonwealth of Nations to look at its standing in the international community. The commonwealth is looked at more as a rotary club instead of an international institution. But if one asks, “What are the benefits of being a Commonwealth country or what has my country gained from being part of the Commonwealth?” It becomes highly debatable with most people strongly emphasizing that they have not benefited from this community of 52 nations. On so many forums I came across in my research, people in Commonwealth countries including Nigeria have firmly argued that they as Commonwealth citizens have no benefits.” 
The people of Fiji would certainly share the sentiments of the lack of citizen benefits, of being in the Commonwealth. Apathy seems to describe Fiji Government's current perception of the Commonwealth. This statement from Fiji's Foreign Minister is indicative that, the ranks of Gambia might be soon be growing. The number of cracks emerging from fallen masonry in the vestibule to the Commonwealth, could inevitably threaten the structural integrity of the edifice.

Club Em Designs

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The New Battle for the Pacific: How the West Is Losing The South Pacific To China, The UAE, And Just About Everyone Else.

Far from being small island states, Pacific Island countries are showing themselves as large ocean states, with vast fisheries, potential seabed resources, and increasingly important geostrategic positioning - as the range of military bases dotted throughout the region can attest.

However, just as the region is showing its importance, Western influence is waning. When the larger Western powers pulled out of the region following the end of the Cold War (the United Kingdom, for example, closed three South Pacific High Commissions in 2006), they turned to Australia and New Zealand to "manage" the area for the West. Ms. Cleo Paskal discusses how and why this happened and what are the options for the West in this new battle for the Pacific.

Ms. Cleo Paskal is an Associate Fellow in the Energy, Environment and Resources department at Chatham House, London, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University, India. 

Recorded at the East-West Center office in Washington, D.C., October 3, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fiji & Japanese Foreign Minister's Discussion.

Source: MoI
Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola held historic talks this week with his Japan counterpart, Minister Fumio Kishida.

This is the first bilateral meeting between both Ministers since Japan’s Abe-led government came into power in 2012. The meeting between the two senior government officials is regarded as a step forward in the deepening of relations between Fiji and Japan, particularly in view of the difficulties in relations experienced by Fiji, under the previous government.

Minister Kishida expressed on behalf of the Japanese Government, his appreciation towards Fiji’s participation at the PALM 6 Interim Ministerial Review Meeting, despite the fact that Fiji did not participate in the PALM 6 Leaders Meeting. He emphasized that Fiji’s position as the hub of the South Pacific region plays a vital role in Japan’s partnership and development objectives in the region. He acknowledged Fiji’s electoral developments as a step forward towards democratic elections in 2014 and reiterated Japan’s willingness to assist in the preparatory process for election in 2014.

Minister Kubuabola in response thanked the government of Japan for the assistance provided to Fiji in the past and congratulated Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. He also acknowledged the invitation extended to Fiji to attend the Interim Ministerial Meeting held this weekend.

There were several bilateral issues presented by Minister Kubuabola for Japan’s consideration. The first was the proposed visit to Japan by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama as the Minister responsible for the Sugar Industry. The Minister said that as part of Fiji’s sugar reforms, the visit in 2014 would allow a delegation to observe the Okinawa Sugar Industry, as part of efforts to capture all the best practices and experience of countries with sugar industries similar to Fiji. The second was Fiji requesting the early conclusion of an investment agreement, which is critical to increasing trade and investment between the two countries. On these two issues, Minister Kishida agreed that relevant officials from both countries should coordinate closely with each other to ensure these two issues are concluded.

The Nadi River Realignment Project was again raised with Minister Kishida, to underscore its critical importance to Fiji and to further demonstrate how recent flooding in Fiji has caused havoc in the social and economic activities in that important region. Assistance towards the PIDF Secretariat was also requested and Minister Kishida agreed that his official will consider this and an appropriate response will be provided.

On bilateral projects with Fiji, Japan will send a mission to Fiji in February/March 2014 to finalize the feasibility study for the Nadi River Realignment Project before the stage will start.

Minister Kubuabola also extended an invitation to Minister Kishida to visit Fiji soon. In doing so, he noted that the last Foreign Minister of Japan that visited Fiji was Mr Shintaro ABE who accompanied Prime Minister NAKASONE to Fiji on an official visit in May 1985. He further observed that high level ministerial visits between friendly countries, should be at regular interval, as they provide a critical mechanism for maintaining goodwill and fraternal relationships between states. On this, Minister Kishida said that he would like to visit Fiji and he will look into this seriously.

The meeting concluded with mutual expression of goodwill to each other. Fiji’s resident Ambassador in Japan H.E Isikeli Mataitoga and the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Mr Pio Tikoduadua accompanied the meeting with the Foreign Minister.

Club Em Designs

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

X-Post: Dominion Post - Fresh Policy Needed With Fiji.

OPINION: New Zealand should be asking itself who rebuffed who in its difficult relationship with Fiji, writes Crosbie Walsh.

Our conflicting image of Fiji - popular tourist destination and unpopular military dictatorship - does little to help us unravel the extremely complex issues that confront this group of islands that are the geographic, communications and economic hub of the South Pacific.
We too easily assume that "democratically elected" is good and "military dictatorship" is bad. We seldom ask whether democracy is always the best means of governance for all cultures, in all situations, and in all countries, and we overlook the possibility that in some situations democracy - and military dictatorships, for that matter - may not be as they seem.

In recent weeks there have been calls, in Australia and New Zealand, to revisit what some, including this writer, see as our failed policy on Fiji. Others, including Victoria University Professor Jonathon Fraenkel, say it is "far better to take the longer view, watch progress carefully on the domestic front, and keep up pressure against the harassment of Fiji's opposition parties, unions and civil society activists" because our "concessions" have been "repeatedly rebuffed" (Let's continue to put the heat on Fiji's strongman, August 14). And so it might seem. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has called New Zealand's recent lifting of some sanctions "insincere, unneeded and too late". But who first rebuffed who?
Crosbie Walsh

" [T]he policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji. New Zealand needs a new policy, not a slight easement of the same "

New Zealand imposed travel bans on almost everyone connected with the Bainimarama government - even Fiji's soccer goalkeeper chosen to play against us in a qualifying round of the World Cup.
Many Fijians now have close relatives living or studying overseas. They cannot risk being unable to visit them or seek treatment in our hospitals. Unable to recruit suitably qualified civilians, more military personnel were appointed to senior government positions - and a less tolerant approach to those who opposed the government ensued.

We voted for Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum. Our efforts also led to the EU and Commonwealth withholding assistance to Fiji's vitally important sugar industry. Fiji responded by forming new international alliances, and it now chairs the UN Group of 77 and the International Sugar Organisation. It has revitalised the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Island Development Forum. These moves must weaken the forum, and with it, our influence in the Pacific.

Fiji now has a new constitution. It is not the constitution that many government opponents would prefer, but there are sound reasons for the amnesty and transitional clauses to which they object. It is unrealistic, for example, to expect Mr Bainimarama to hand over power to an interim government that could be dominated by his opponents. To do so, would risk losing all that the government thinks it has achieved, and the coup would have been to no purpose.

Mr Bainimarama's opponents give no credit for his promotion of a common national identity. All citizens are now "Fijian" irrespective of race; all can now proudly say they "belong". And for the first time, schools have civics classes to foster inter-racial understanding. One of the old political parties wants Fiji declared a Christian state, and another wants to retain the discriminatory race-based election system. Both want to restore power to ethnic Fijian chiefs who, before the 2006 coup, appointed the president, and dominated senate and most provincial appointments.

The "old political order" that Mr Bainimarama ousted favoured the urban elite and brought few improvements for the urban or rural poor. His reforms have seen much-needed action on a neglected infrastructure, rural and regional development, fair land leases, housing, education, health, work to reduce endemic corruption, and the now improving economy. His critics accentuate the negatives and recognise not one positive.
Not all is well in Fiji. It was not well in 2006. In some human rights areas it is not well now, but it is naive to think Fiji's major problems will be resolved by a partially, or even a fully, democratic government elected in September 2014.

But from my end of the binoculars, things are improving, and they could have been much better much earlier had the Australian and New Zealand governments adopted a more informed and flexible policy towards Fiji.
It is now nearly seven years since the 2006 coup. I see no evidence that the "heat" has produced any positive changes in or for Fiji, and I doubt it will in the future. Quite frankly, the policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji. New Zealand needs a new policy, not a slight easement of the same.

Crosbie Walsh is an Adjunct Professor of Development Geography at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, where he was the founding director of the Centre of Development Studies. Before this, he was the founding director of the Institute of Development Studies at Massey University. He is now retired. 

Source: Dominion Post

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fiji Bilaterals- On The Margins Of UN General Assembly 68th Session #2

Fijian Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama met today with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Fiji PM, Voreqe Bainimarama. (Source: MoI)

The Prime Minister congratulated the Secretary-General for his outstanding contribution to achieving the Security Council’s 27 September consensus resolution on Syria.

Presenting the Secretary-General with a copy of Fiji’s Constitution adopted on 6 September 2013, Prime Minister Bainimarama explained to the Secretary-General the key provisions of the Constitution, and the steps that are now being taken towards holding elections before the end of September 2014. “After all the efforts we have put into preparing the ground for these elections, we cannot afford to have anything but a credible and transparent election. We must and will ensure that we have credible elections”, explained the Prime Minister to the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General thanked Prime Minister Bainimarama for the speedy and expeditious deployment to UNDOF in the Golan Heights. He said this deployment was especially appreciated as it came at a time of great need for UNDOF. He expressed his hope that the Fijian personnel were adjusting well to the situation in UNDOF.

The Secretary-General also congratulated Prime Minister Bainimarama for Fiji’s 2013 Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China, which he said had been run in a very effective and disciplined manner, receiving widespread support and respect in the UN community.

The Secretary-General further said that G77 support was crucial to United Nations progress on economic and social issues, and he asked that the G77 through Fiji’s Chairmanship remain closely engaged in the process to agree on Sustainable Development Goals and the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda. The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister discussed the importance of the development agenda of the UN as being paramount for the long term interest of the global community.

The Secretary-General stressed efforts needed to elaborate a post-2015 development agenda that is best suited to address the challenges of ending hunger and poverty, and creating better standards of living around the world. -ENDS-



Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov and Fiji PM (MoI)
27 September 2013, New York: Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia V Bainimarama met with the Russian Federation’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov for talks on further progressing bilateral relations.

They were meeting for the first time since Prime Minister Bainimarama’s historic official visit to Moscow from 27 June -1 July, 2013. The meeting was an opportunity to follow up on agreements reached at the Leaders’ meetings in Moscow, and to put in place arrangements for the implementation of these agreements.

Russia-Fiji bilateral relations have been strengthened through regular interaction at high levels of government, and the Prime Minister said that Fiji looks forward to commemorating the 40th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations with Russia in January 2014.

Earlier in the morning, Fiji’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ratu Inoke Kubuabola co-chaired with Minister Lavrov the annual meeting of Russia-Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) Ministers, now a recurring event in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Fiji was joined at the annual meeting by Ministers and Senior Officials from Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Palau, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. All PSIDS Members highlighted a request to Russia to support PSIDS concerns in the area of climate change, consequences of which pose real security risks to PSIDS.

PSIDS and Russia also agreed to collaborate on developing a Russia-PSIDS regional Engineering Scholarships Scheme, details of which are to be elaborated by the standing Russia-PSIDS Working Group in New York.



Andora's Foreign Affairs Minister, Gilbert Saboya Sunnye, and Fiji FM (MoI)
27 September, New York: Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Principality of Andorra, Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunye, signed a joint communiqué formalizing the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The two Ministers expressed the need to strengthen bilateral relations and friendly ties and also expand collaboration at the international fora on the basis of the principles of international law and the UN Charter.

This year marks the Principality’s twentieth anniversary after its admission as a member of the United Nations on 8 July 1993. Minister Sunye expressed the readiness of the Principality to provide assistance to Fiji in various areas, particularly with regards to the tourism sector.

Both, Fiji and Andorra, have strong tourism sectors. With a total population of 70,000 people, Andorra’s tourism industry attracts around 8 million visitors each year.

Minister Kubuabola thanked and the Principality of Andorra for supporting Fiji, and looks forward to closer cooperation between the two countries within the framework of the United Nations.



Turkey's Foreign Minister, Dr Ahmet Davutoglu and Fiji FM (MoI)

27 September 2013, New York: Fiji’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ratu Inoke Kubuabola held a series of bilateral meetings in the margins of the 68th UN General Assembly.

Taking advantage of the large gathering of his counterparts and senior officials from Foreign Ministries from around the world in New York for the General Assembly, Minister Kubuabola was able to meet and discuss with partners matters of mutual interest.

The meetings included sessions with the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea, Mr Rimbink Pato, the Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, Mr Hugo Swire, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Dr Ahmet Davutoglu, and the Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Ms Mmasekoga Masire-Mwamba.

In all these meetings, Minister Kubuabola highlighted the progress Fiji has made on its Roadmap to Democracy, in particular the 6 September 2013 adoption of Fiji’s Constitution. He highlighted the advertisement of the position of the Supervisor of Elections, and other being steps taken towards the holding of democratic parliamentary elections by September, 2014.

He also took the opportunity to discuss regional institutional structures and the needs of PSIDS in global issues, in particular, climate change demands.



Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak and Fiji PM ( MoI)


26 September 2013, New York: Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama met today with the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands H.E. Christopher Loeak at the margins of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Prime Minister Bainimarama and President Loeak discussed bilateral cooperation between the Marshall Islands and Fiji. President Loeak was particularly appreciative of Fiji’s assistance through the provision of Fiji Water as Fiji’s contribution to drought relief efforts in the Marshall Islands, as well as the assistance provided in the health and education sectors.

Although Fiji did not participate in the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meetings held in Marshall Islands, Prime Minister Bainimarama was pleased to have been able to support the Marshall Islands efforts to host the meeting through the provision of training for protocol officers provided by Fiji.

Prime Minister Bainimarama also thanked President Loeak for the presence of the Marshall Islands at the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum, which will be focused on issues of core interest to Pacific Small Island Developing States.

The two leaders also discussed a review of the Air Services Agreement between the Marshall Islands and Fiji, towards ensuring that North-South airlinks in the Pacific are enhanced. Work on this is ongoing.

At the conclusion of their fruitful discussions, President Loeak invited PM to visit the Marshall Islands, for which PM Bainimarama was very appreciative.



Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman and Fiji FM (MoI)
The Foreign Ministers for Fiji and Argentina held bilateral talks this morning to look at ways of boosting relations between the two countries.

Fiji’s Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola met his Argentine counterpart Minister Hector Timmerman in New York and discussed opportunities for bilateral and triangular cooperation, in particular how Argentina may be able to facilitate bilateral and triangular cooperation projects through the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF).

Minister Timerman suggested organising a meeting with the PIDF to discuss opportunities for such cooperation in Argentina, including a project being worked on by Argentina for desalination projects.

Minister Kubuabola welcomed the holding of such a meeting, and thanked Argentina for having sent an Ambassador to observe at the inaugural meeting of the PIDF.

Minister Kubuabola took the opportunity to brief Minister Timerman on developments in Fiji's roadmap to democracy, including an update on Fiji's new constitution and the way forward for elections to be held by September 2014.

The two Ministers also discussed G77 matters. Argentina having held the Chairmanship of the Group in 2011, the two Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the work of the Group.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiji PM's Interview With Radio Tarana.

Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama's full interview with Auckland's Radio Tarana.

(Podcast posted below)

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Friday, August 16, 2013

ABC's Newsline - A Skewed Potrayal of Fiji's PIDF.

Australia News Network's program Newsline, covers the recent Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), which was a diplomatic initiative of Fiji .

Most of the commentary in the Newsline segment, contained loaded terminology and the analysis within the video, is viewed through the prism of the Australian Foreign Affairs establishment. The general theme of the Newsline segment, unfairly portrays this new addition to the regional architecture, in particular subtle overtones of bias.

A recent post by Grubsheet accurately describes a similar strain of bias, existing in Radio Australia; apparently this is an endemic problem within the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

(Video of Newsline segment posted below)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Fiji Foreign Minister Speaks On Pacific Issues.

Source: Radio NZ
Radio New Zealand's correspondent, Sally Round interviewed Fiji's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. In that interview, Kubuabola addressed the outcome of the recent inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) and labelled it as, "I believe it was not successful for Fiji, but successful for Pacific Island countries who attended".

Fiji Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (MoI)
Kubuabola was asked, where the PIDF was heading, in relation to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and replied, "That the PIDF compliments the PIF" and "It was about sustainable development and PIDF was never about competing with existing regional organizations".

Kubuabola, also touched briefly on the current review of the PIF and further added that, "[Fiji] will not be part of the Forum, as is and there will need to be some changes before [Fiji] goes back in". Kubuabola further elaborated on those needed changes in the PIF, "Australia, New Zealand need to decide whether they want to be a donor or a member".

Kubuabola addresed the postings of High Commissioners to Suva, " We've been looking at some of things being done by Australia, New Zealand towards Fiji and we believe, maybe we should hold back on the postings of High Commissioners to Fiji and our High Commissioners to Canberra and Wellington". Kubuabola also alluded to the undermining by the Metropolitan neighbors, "Some leaders were approached, not to attend attend this meeting".

Audio of the interview ( posted below)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fiji's Dean of Diplomacy.

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

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

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fiji Signs Landmark Agreements with Russia.

Source: MoI 6/29/2013

Russian PM, Dmitry Medvedev and Fiji PM,Voreqe Bainimarama (MoI)
Fiji has signed a series of bilateral agreements with the Russian Federation during the first ever visit to Moscow by a Fijian leader. The Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev witnessed the signing of new protocols on military and technical cooperation; a mutual visa exemption scheme; cooperation in tackling money laundering, the proceeds of crime and the financing of terrorism; public health assistance; and university exchanges between Russia's Far East University and the Fiji National University.

Negotiations will also begin soon on a double taxation agreement and an air services agreement to establish air links between Moscow and Nadi and significantly boost the number of Russian tourists visiting Fiji. The signings capped a day of intense activity in Moscow, which began when the Prime Minister laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier along the Kremlin Wall in the centre of the Russian capital. This was followed by a meeting between Commodore Bainimarama and Prime Minister Medvedev at his official residence, Gorky House, on the outskirts of Moscow.

Fiji  and Russia ink agreements.
The two leaders pledged to strengthen their bilateral relations and improve trade and economic ties. These were officially described as having been largely sporadic and uncoordinated in the past. In his welcome statement, the Russian leader said he would like to see a celebration of the relationship between Russia and Fiji next year to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1974. To this end, he invited a Fijian delegation to visit Russia next August to mark the occasion.

Prime Minister Medvedev expressed the Russian Government's continuing support for Fiji's contribution to United Nations peacekeeping efforts. One hundred and eighty two (182) Fijian troops left Fiji on Thursday to join the UN contingent in the Golan Heights. Mr Medvedev said Russia wanted to pay particular attention to assisting Fiji with its UN peacekeeping deployments. After PM Bainimarama had given him an update on Fiji's progress towards the election in September 2014, the Russian Prime Minister said Fiji had the right to be left alone to map its own way forward without being dictated to by other countries. Russia, he said, respected the sovereignty of every nation, big or small, and their right to decide on their development and their future.

The Russian leader also accepted an invitation from the Fijian Prime Minister to send a senior representative to the summit meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum in Nadi in August. He indicated that his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, would be the most likely official to lead the Russian delegation. Prime Minister Bainimarama is scheduled to meet the Foreign Minister later today (Saturday).

Video (posted below)

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Russia To Open Embassy In Suva.

Source: Fiji Sun


Ratu Inoke Kubuabola
Opening embassy here will cap-off ties with BRICS alliance


Russia will open an embassy in Fiji, the Fiji Sun was told yesterday.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, confirmed this saying this was all part of building stronger ties between Fiji and Russia. This relationship should complete Fiji’s building of close links with the BRICS alliance – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the world’s emerging economic superpowers.

Part of building Fijian and Russian relations according to Ratu Inoke include:
  • High level visits between our political leaders. For example, Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s official visit to Russia this month.
This is at Head of Government level. In the future some exchanges at Ministerial level; and
  •  Appointments of Honorary Consul for Fiji in Moscow, Vladivostok, St Petersburg, etc.
Fiji he said would like to engage with Russia on areas of mutual benefit to both countries. This as a result therefore does not constrain to certain parameters or fields but in all the versatile areas. He confirmed that Fiji and Russia  had ongoing discussions on certain areas of engagement over the last few years and this he said had yielded fruition.

According to Ratu Inoke, Fiji and Russia were now looking at signing MOU’s pertaining to:
  • Finance and counterterrorism;
  • Military technical co-operation;
  • Mutual visa arrangements;  and
  • MOU between Far Eastern University and the Fiji National University. “In future Fiji aims to discuss further trade, economic, security, social development and climate change agreements with Russia and more,” Ratu Inoke said.
“I hope that this relationship will develop further in future. I would say that Fiji and Russia have a very good outlook in terms of its relationship both under the umbrella of the South-South Co-operation and Fiji’s Look North Policy initiatives.” He adds that Fiji hopes to collaborate with Russia on areas of significant mutual interest at the multilateral, regional and bilateral levels.

Russia, being a newly-accepted member of the World Trade Organisation, is also excited for Fiji in so far as global trade is concerned. “We are positive that with Russia’s entry the state of play in global trade will be strengthened and this will also have positive impacts on regional and the bilateral trading systems as well.”
On investment Ratu Inoke said there was great opportunity in the tourism sector for Russian investors to build and operate tourist hotels, etc.

With Fiji opening an office in Moscow it also has embassies in Australia, New Zealand, China, Belgium, United States of America, Belgium, India, Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Korea and South Africa.

On June 16, 2009, the leaders of the BRICS countries held their first summit in Yekaterinburg, and issued a declaration calling for the establishment of an equitable, democratic and multipolar world order.
Since then they have met in Brasília in 2010, met in Sanya in 2011 and in New Delhi, India in 2012.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fiji and PNG Defense Cooperation.

In the wake of a successful Fiji business delegation and State visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG), a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is being drawn up, detailing the terms of a proposed Defense cooperation between Fiji and PNG.

The Fiji Military, with many years of operational experience in peacekeeping missions under the United Nations (UN) banner, are earmarked to train PNG army officers. Fiji's Permanent Secretary of Defence, Jale Fotofili also outlined the possibility of a joint Fiji/PNG operation in peacekeeping missions, in an interview with FBC TV news (video posted below).

Friday, April 19, 2013

X-Post: Grubsheet - The Pacific Axis Shifts.

Source: Grubsheet

An outstanding success: Voreqe Bainimarama arrives in Port Moresby (Photo:ABC)
An outstanding success: Voreqe Bainimarama arrives in Port Moresby (Photo:ABC)

There’s elation in Fijian Government circles over the highly successful outcome of this week’s visit to Papua New Guinea by the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, at the head of the biggest Fijian trade and investment mission ever to visit another country. The original aims of the visit were ambitious enough – to lay more of the foundation for the creation of a single, integrated market for the countries of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Yet the results exceeded even the most ambitious expectations of the PM, his Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and the trade delegation of 65 Fijian business leaders from 47 companies. 

Commodore Bainimarama described himself as being “on a high”. And the normally ultra-calm and measured Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry, Shaheen Ali, said he was “overwhelmed” by the “marvelous” outcome of the visit. Within hours, some of the Fijian companies were already receiving orders and entering into agreements with PNG suppliers and distributors. And by day two of the mission, two more Fijian businesses had registered as foreign investors in PNG. This is in addition to the F$180-million investment by Fiji’s national superannuation fund, the FNPF, in Bemobile – a major telecommunications provider in PNG and Solomon Islands – and the management takeover of its operations by Vodafone Fiji.

The Fijian Government sees itself as equal partners with PNG in ultimately leading the other MSG countries into an economic union to improve the lives of every Melanesian. There’s a notable absence of rivalry of the sort we’ve witnessed over the years in Europe, where Germany, France and Britain have consistently maneuvered for advantage in the European Union. As Fiji sees it, Papua New Guinea has the biggest market – seven million people compared to around 900,000 here – plus the massive wealth that flows from its minerals and energy sectors. And Fiji has an established manufacturing base, a skilled and educated workforce and is positioned at the crossroads of the Pacific. 

In other words, their assets are complimentary. Each country has its particular challenges – Papua New Guinea with corruption and lawlessness and Fiji still grappling with finally putting to rest the divisions that have hampered its development since Independence. Yet there’s a strong feeling on both sides that working in tandem in a joint leadership role is the best way to improve the lives of their own citizens and their Melanesian brothers and sisters in the smaller MSG states. 

There’s no doubt that Melanesian solidarity generally was a big beneficiary of this visit. As Commodore Bainimarama put it, PNG -Fiji ties go way beyond the mutual respect and cooperation that is the traditional benchmark of diplomacy. The peoples of both countries genuinely like each other, enjoy each other’s company and share a vision of a stronger Melanesia building a common economic and political future for all its citizens. And of course, both Governments bear significant grudges against the most dominant power in the region, Australia, which they regard as generally arrogant, overbearing and indifferent to Melanesian sensibilities. The same applies to New Zealand, albeit to a lesser extent.

As Grubsheet has written before, Australia’s mishandling of its Pacific neighbours – and especially Fiji – is a mistake of historical proportions. Its failure to fully engage with them, let alone comprehend their challenges, and its propensity to prescribe and even hector, has driven influential Pacific countries like Fiji and PNG further into each other’s arms and the arms of others outside the region. The Australian trade union heavies and their stooge of a Prime Minister who currently determine Pacific policy – and the foreign affairs establishment which implements it – seem to have little concept of Melanesian sensitivities and protocols. 

It’s well known in Suva than even the mention of Australia can trigger a surge of anger in Prime Minister Bainimarama, who feels sorely aggrieved that Canberra chose not to even  sit down with him, let alone try and comprehend his reforms. During this visit, the PM kept his counsel, adhering to the diplomatic convention of not criticising another country on someone else’s soil. In fact, it was the Papua New Guineans who made unflattering public comments about Australia. PNG’s Trade Minister, Richard Maru, accused Canberra of using his country as a “dumping ground” for its goods and said it wasn’t in Australia’s interests for the Melanesian countries to become self sufficient in anything. If that was what was being said publicly, then we can be sure that the language behind the scenes would have been a lot more colourful. The shared grievances of both governments about Australia would have been fully aired.

Certainly, there was general astonishment about the way in which this visit appeared to have been downplayed by Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, which also has a significant presence in PNG. Aside from one story that correctly cited a series of “historic” agreements, the rest of the visit was generally ignored. Indeed on the first day, Radio Australia’s current affairs program, Pacific Beat, chose to lead with an item criticising Fiji’s constitutional process rather than give weight to the region’s two biggest and most influential island countries forging closer ties. It merely reinforced the notion in Fijian minds of the ABC’s chronic bias against the Bainimarama Government and Radio Australia as a lapdog of Canberra’s foreign policy. By any normal journalistic standard, this was a big Pacific story of significant interest to the populations of PNG and Fiji and, to a lesser extent, those of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the Kanaks of New Caledonia, who make up the rest of the MSG. It was buried. 

Is Australia sensitive about the fact that its so-called smart sanctions against Fiji haven’t turned out to be smart at all? You bet. American diplomats report that far from modifying their policies in the face of defeat, the Australians have stepped up their efforts internationally to isolate Fiji. Was Commodore Bainimarama’s visit a collective two-finger salute to Australia? Well, maybe just a little. Yet the overriding sentiment in official circles in Suva nowadays is that Australian attitudes are irrelevant. In any event, Blind Freddy can see that Julia Gillard’s Government is toast -with a 29 per cent primary vote in the most recent opinion poll – and that Australian policy towards Fiji is bound to be more realistic, if not more favourable, when the Coalition’s Tony Abbott storms into power in the Australian election in September. A full year out from the promised Fijian poll, Abbott and his likely foreign minister, Julie Bishop, will have ample time to end Labor’s vendetta and rebuild the relationship. 

There were many highpoints of this visit, not least the Bemobile signing -Fiji’s biggest foreign investment on behalf of all Fijians through the FNPF in one of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy- telecommunications. The Government’s critics continually harp on about the FNPF putting the retirement savings of ordinary Fijians at risk. Yet with Vodafone Fiji running Bemobile, the potential to grow that investment seems rock solid. In Fiji, there are more mobile phones than people – a penetration rate of 105 per cent. In Papua New Guinea, the penetration rate is 35 per cent. That’s a lot of potential customers and a lot of mobile phones.

Among other highlights of the visit:

  • ·      The announcement that citizens of both countries will no longer require visas to visit each other. This is on top of existing plans to achieve a seamless flow of labour between the MSG countries.

  •  ·      The provision for retired Fijian civil servants – who are obliged to vacate their jobs at 55 – to work in Papua New Guinea to boost the local skills base.

  •  ·      The plan for a permanent Fiji Trade Mission in Port Moresby and the continuation of the joint effort to break down the remaining impediments to trade and investment, with a view to developing a common market.

  • Most important of all – at least in the shorter term – is the financial support Papua New Guinea has offered Fiji to conduct its election in September 2014 and introduce the first genuine parliamentary democracy in the country’s history of one-person, one vote, one value.

According to officials travelling with Commodore Bainimarama, the PM couldn’t believe his ears when the amount of the PNG contribution was announced out of the blue by his opposite number, Peter O’Neill. “What did he say?”, he asked. At first, the Ministry of Information flashed a media release that the amount was 15-million Kina. But it soon became clear that the fifteen was actually FIFTY. A sense of astonishment, delight and gratitude swept the Fijian delegation and text messages lit up in the corridors of power in Suva. More than 40-million Fijian dollars!  By any standards and especially in the Pacific, it is an astonishingly generous amount. 

This contribution has sealed the Fiji-PNG relationship and laid to rest the concerns of some that PNG was more intent on cementing its own interests during this visit than pursuing a genuinely equal partnership. It means that Fiji no longer requires other outside assistance to finance the poll, and especially from those countries or groups of countries like the European Union, which appear more interested in using the money as political leverage than in assisting Fijians to determine their own future. Instead of having election observers from the EU – as happened controversially in 2006 – the Prime Minister wants election observers from PNG and the other MSG countries. He accused the EU observers of endorsing a “flawed” election in 2006 and said Fiji wanted an observer group with “integrity”. This will not be music to the ears of Fiji’s voluble EU Ambassador, Andrew Jacobs, who before the PNG announcement, was telling people that Fiji would need to  approach the EU for assistance and accept certain conditions that are now decidedly moot.

With Commodore Bainimarama having now travelled across the world to New York to chair a meeting of the G77 Plus China and the rest of the Fijian delegation making its way home, it’s clear that this visit has been an outstanding success. History may also judge it as the week that Fiji and PNG cemented their common future and came to realise more fully the potential they have – working together – to establish the MSG as the pre-eminent regional grouping and its integration as the best way to improve the lives of all Melanesians. One thing is certain. The axis of power in the Pacific is gradually shifting, whether Australia, NZ and their Polynesian client states such as Samoa like it or not.  

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