Showing posts with label Fiji-Australia relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiji-Australia relations. 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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

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



Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani and Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama (Source: MoI)

Source: MoI
24 September 2013, New York: Fijian Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama met today with His Excellency Hassan Rouhani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran currently holds the Presidency of the Non Aligned Movement with its 120 Member States, while Fiji holds the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China with its 132 Member States.

President Rouhani and Prime Minister Bainimarama discussed the challenges and opportunities of presiding over such a large group of countries, and how the two groups can fully play their part in current global peace, security, social and economic situations.

President Rouhani stressed that solutions are needed for the instability being experienced in the Middle East, including in Syria, and expressed his hope that groups like the Non Aligned Movement would be able to bring to bear some influence on lasting peaceful solutions, while recognising the large and diverse nature of such Groups.

President Rouhani wished Prime Minister Bainimarama the best for his tenure as Chair of the G77, and assured him of Iran's support in this regard.

Prime Minister Bainimarama explained that Fiji's commitment to assisting peace and security in the Middle East came from its long participation in UN Peacekeeping Missions, most recently through deploying over 500 personnel to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights.

He said this followed on from Fiji's past participation in UNIFIL in Lebanon, and current participation in UNAMI in Iraq and the MFO in the Sinai.

President Rouhani assured Iran's support to Fiji's peacekeepers as part of these UN Missions, and expressed the hope that in each of the countries where Fiji serves in the Middle East, lasting peaceful solutions can be obtained, as it has been many years since these places have had to rely on UN peacekeeping for stability.

Finally, Prime Minister Bainimarama and President Rouhani discussed bilateral ties between Iran and Fiji, which were formalised on 30 August 2012 in Tehran.

Both expressed their desire to promote and enhance bilateral ties, including in the areas of tourism and the sugar industry. They tasked their respective Ministers of Foreign Affairs to follow up on bilateral ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Fiji.


Fiji PM Voreqe Bainimarama and Vanuatu PM, Moana Kalosil

Fiji And Vanuatu MoU on Development Cooperation.

Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama met in New York on Tuesday with the Prime Minister of Vanuatu Moana Carcasses Kalosil to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on development cooperation. The MOU essentially articulates the desire of both countries to strengthen their relations through co-operation on a number of key areas.

“Fiji and Vanuatu share development aspirations and challenges, and agreements such as the one we have signed today allow for collective and innovative solutions to be developed, drawing on best practices from each of our countries,” said Commodore Bainimarama.

The memorandum of understanding on cooperation which was signed today encompasses a broad range of issues including: bilateral trade and investment; education, youth and human resource development; labour mobility; immigration; commerce, retail and taxation; Fisheries Cooperation; air and sea transportation; health and pharmaceutical; climate change, environment, security and energy; and livestock development.

Fiji Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and Georgian Foreign Minister, Dr Maia Panjikidze (Source: MoI)


The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola met today with the Foreign Minister of Georgia, Dr Maia Panjikidze to discuss ways and means of intensifying relations between the two countries, given the growing developments in their relations in recent past.

Fiji and Georgia formally established diplomatic relations on 29 March 2010. Since then, Fiji has continued to receive delegations from Georgia. In November 2011, Georgia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Grigol Vashadze arrived with his delegation. Early last year, a delegation from the Ministry of Education in Georgia came to donate Net Books to schools around Fiji.

The two Ministers also had the opportunity to discuss the need to formalize a Development Cooperation Agreement between the two countries. This would strengthen their relations in the various fields of mutual cooperation. At the moment, Georgia has shown its interest to assist Fiji in the areas of Policing, Civil Service and Anti-corruption.

Minister Kubuabola thanked Minister Panjikidze for the assistance extended by the Georgian Government to Fiji in the various areas of cooperation, including scholarships provided to 6 of our medical students as well as the provision of Net Books to schools around Fiji.

Georgia’s Embassy in Canberra is accredited to Fiji.

Fiji Foreign Miinister and Ukraine Foreign Minister, Leonid Kozhara (MoI)


The Republic of Fiji and the Ukraine formalised their diplomatic relations at a ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters in New York today within the margins of the Leaders week of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Fiji’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and his counterpart H.E Leonid Kozhara signed a joint communiqué establishing relations between the two States.

The communiqué expressed the desire of the Republic of Fiji and Ukraine to establish their relations in accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and guided by the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and international law. The communiqué calls for the promotion and strengthening of bonds of friendship and cooperation between Ukraine and Fiji in political, economic, cultural, humanitarian and other fields.

Following the formalisation ceremony, Minister Kubuabola and Minister Kozhara held talks on areas of common interest between the two countries and assured each other of mutual support of their Missions in the furtherance of common causes in multilateral affairs.
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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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Saturday, May 19, 2012


The typical Australian stereotype of Fiji (Photo: Tourism Fiji)

As argument rages over Japan bowing to Australian pressure to exclude Frank Bainimarama from the forthcoming PALM summit of Pacific leaders, we’re newly reminded of the striking disconnect between the attitude of the Labor Government and ordinary Australians towards Fiji. Pick up any newspaper and the tough rhetoric of its politicians in the news pages about Fiji’s “draconian” regime gives way to glowing articles in the travel pages extolling the country’s charms.

Among the locals (photo: Tourism Fiji)

It’s worth reading the latest – this offering in the Fairfax Media listing “Twenty reasons to visit Fiji”. Why is it worth reading? Well for a start, most locals wouldn’t be able to give you 20 reasons off the top of their own heads so it’s worth reminding ourselves of the attractions all around us that are sometimes taken for granted. But it also explains why Australians keep coming in large numbers even as their government imposes sanctions on the country and Australian trade unions leaders urge them to stay away.

Of the 631,000 visitor arrivals in 2010 – the latest figures available – more than half – 318,000 – were Australians. Why do they come? Well, cheaper air fares, a four hour daylight flight and the strong Aussie dollar are undoubtedly part of the answer. But the relationship goes far beyond that.

The recent floods threw up countless examples of the strong bonds forged between Australian visitors and the ordinary people they meet in Fiji. It wasn’t just the gratitude expressed by individual visitors in the media for the assistance they’d received, sometimes from people who’d lost everything in the disaster. Many people back in Australia who’d holidayed in Fiji dug deep to support the various flood appeals in ways that were sometimes deeply moving for the expatriate Fijians involved. One of the organisers of the Sydney appeal, Joweli Ravualala, tells of bursting into tears when an elderly Sydney woman gave him two weeks of her pension.
One Australian's story: Ken Lamb ( Photo: Mining "Our story" campaign)

There are countless stories of  friendships forged during Australian holidays to Fiji. Grubsheet made one of the mining ads currently screening on Australian television that features a man called Ken Lamb, a real life Crocodile Dundee who supplies heavy equipment to the mining industry in the South Australian outback. Every year, Ken and his wife, Val, like to get away from the dust and heat to unwind at a resort on Viti Levu’s Coral Coast. And over the years, they’ve formed close friendships with some of the resort workers and their families.

 A couple of years back, Ken took over a box full of those instant prescription glasses you can buy at any chemist in Australia to distribute to the surrounding villages. I’ll never forget the look of delight on his face as he told of the looks of delight on the faces of many of the elderly Fijians who’d benefited from this simple gesture. They were able to read again for the first time in years.

Still doesn't get it: Bob Carr with his Fijian counterpart, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola ( Photo: Australian Govt)

This is the real glue of the Fiji-Australian relationship, not some here-today-gone-tomorrow politician like the miserable Bob Carr,  Australia’s verbose and ultra-nerdy foreign minister. Like his super-arrogant, Napoleonic predecessor, Kevin Rudd,  Carr displays a disturbing ignorance about the factors that brought about the 2006 coup in Fiji.  It’s perhaps understandable that an Australian politician who owes his very existence to the trade union movement should be so obsessed with the fate of one or two Fijian union leaders who’ve fallen foul of the regime. Yet it beggars belief that while he acknowledges that Fiji is taking “credible steps” to return to democracy, Carr wants to maintain sanctions and keep up the pressure because Fiji “hasn’t done enough”.

Blissful ignorance: The Australian way ( Photo: Tourism Fiji)

Done enough of what, Mr Carr? For the first time in more than a decade, Fiji has a government committed to multiracialism and – for the first time ever – creating a level electoral playing field for all its citizens. It is providing basic services to areas of the country sorely neglected by previous administrations. It is fighting corruption and instituting a raft of measures to ensure proper standards of governance. It is maintaining its regional obligations and providing troops to the UN to maintain order in places like Iraq. It is formulating a new constitution to provide Fiji with real democracy – one person, one vote – for the very first time. Yet it “hasn’t done enough” because it hasn’t bowed to Australian demands for an immediate election that would alter nothing because none of the reforms the country so badly needs will have been instituted.

How ironic that a nation that prides itself on its own multiracial and multicultural success can have so strongly supported the previous Qarase Government, with its corruption and blatantly racist agenda to disadvantage 40 per cent of the population. How lamentable that the Australian Labor Government does everything it can to weaken the Bainimarama regime in its quest for racial equality and good governance in Fiji. How out of step is Labor on this with the sentiments of a great many ordinary Australians, just as it is on so many other issues. Fortunately for Fiji, all the opinion polls tell us they can’t wait to turf Labor out.

FURTHER READING : Here’s a link to a devastating critique of Bob Carr’s “underwhelming” performance as foreign minister by academic commentator Peter van Onselen, writing in The Weekend Australia.

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