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

Monday, October 28, 2013

X-Post: Russia’s Pacific Destiny

Source: American Interest 


"By virtue of our unique geography”, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a 2011 Foreign Policy article, “the United States is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power.” Russia, meanwhile, has seen itself as a Euro-Asian country, as Vladimir Putin has argued from the start of his first term in the Kremlin. The American attitude, which in Secretary Clinton’s locution is about as uncontroversial a statement as an American Secretary of State can make, reflects the country’s historic “maritime” vocation. The Russian one reflects the longstanding fascination with the country’s continental scale and reflects its traditional terrestrial focus. It is really no surprise, when you think about it, that during the “space race” Americans fetched their returning astronauts at sea, while Russians did so over land.

Despite these different conceptions of the Pacific, which is now the most dynamic region in the world, both the United States and the Russian Federation have made similar mistakes. The most striking of these has been the equation of the Pacific Rim with Asia and Asians. American and Russian policymakers and experts have commonly spoken of the Asia-Pacific or Asian-Pacific region, respectively. Both groups presuppose that the Pacific Rim cannot even be imagined without the primacy of Asian nations, tacitly agreeing that among them China appears to be a natural leader. The recent and ongoing shift of global wealth toward the Pacific is therefore widely interpreted as a harbinger of the “Asian century.”

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.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

X-Post: The Strategist - Another BRIC In The Wall.

Talks between Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister of Fiji Voreqe Bainimarama
Image courtesy of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Is Russia about to become another brick in the wall between Fiji and its Western friends? The official visit by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, to Russia in late June has further developed a relationship that has been growing significantly closer over the last two years. In the course of the visit, he and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed five agreements, covering topics from financial security cooperation and the abolition of visa requirements through MOUs on health and University cooperation to military-technical cooperation. For a brief hyperbolic moment, Fiji media reports prior to the visit even suggested that Russia was about to open an embassy in Suva to substantially deepened the political relationship.

Fiji’s pursuit of non-traditional friends has intensified while the grip of international sanctions has shown no sign of relaxation, despite the progress made by the Bainimarama Government toward elections by September 2014. Fiji targeted Russia as part of diplomatic initiative centred on the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—from early 2011. In February 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Fiji. This was followed up a few months later by a delegation of Russian officials including military officers.

The nature of the mutual interest at that time was subject to the speculation that Russian interests lay in western Asia not the Pacific. This conjecture rested on Moscow’s pursuit of support for its position in the Caucasus region regarding the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Australia’s then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, openly accused Russia of cheque-book diplomacy in seeking to buy international recognition for the two break-away enclaves .

Russia does have some Pacific objectives of its own, as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear in open the May 2012 Vladivostok APEC Summit. In its own pivot to the Pacific, RADM Sergei Avakyants, Commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, announced that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia would send new warships to the Far East in 2014.

Whatever Russia’s motives for encouraging the relationship, Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, promoted the Moscow visit as furthering Fiji’s BRICS initiative. This begs the question of what a BRICS strategy might be. Is it more than a slogan?

The BRICS initiative is, of course, consistent with Bainimarama Government’s pursuit of greater South-South cooperation and support. Undoubtedly the prospect of the BRICS Development Bank is especially attractive in light of difficulties associated with other banks, where perceived Australian interference has worked against access to loans. The more immediate objective is political—to reinforce the Government’s increasing independence from its traditional friends as evidenced by its ‘Look North’ policy.
Richard Herr

" Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, sought greater South-South cooperation and elevated those regional arrangements that exclude Australia and New Zealand. "
At one level, the ‘Look North’ policy isn’t materially different from any other state beating a path to Beijing’s door in the Asia-Pacific Century. Yet, in Fiji’s case, it’s routinely contrasted with the less sympathetic treatment Suva receives from Canberra, Wellington and Washington, with the implication that China’s an alternative to these traditional friends.

Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, sought greater South-South cooperation and elevated those regional arrangements that exclude Australia and New Zealand. The BRICS aspect of this agenda has been bolstered bilaterally with the opening of resident diplomatic missions in Brazil and South Africa In the past two years. Fiji has had diplomatic ties with China since 1975. The Bainimarama Government is open in its desire to establish new relations with states that understand and will support its domestic reform agenda. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev gave Fiji his backing, openly asserting that Fiji had the ‘right to be left alone’ by ‘other countries’, implying Australia and New Zealand.

The potential military linkage is raising eyebrows externally especially in the wake of reports that Russia will help to equip nearly 600 Fiji troops on UN peacekeeping deployment to the Golan Heights. Western sanctions have restricted Fiji’s access to military equipment resupply and modernisation since the December 2006 military coup brought Commodore Bainimarama to power.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces have made small arms purchases from Indonesia and talked with China about more significant assistance. The prospective loss of NATO interoperability with the RFMF has been a source of concern amongst some Western states during this time but not enough to address Fiji’s resupply and modernisation issues. Russian support for the Golan Heights deployment may just be the thin edge of the wedge—a trial prior to a more general re-equipment of the RFMF that will move it and Fiji further away from the country’s traditional Western alignment.

Even if the Russian materiel for the Golan Heights proves more limited, it would still pose some significant challenges for Fiji’s diplomacy and even for the RFMF, which has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for professionalism in its UN peacekeeping roles. Nevertheless, it has also maintained the confidence of the Israelis when deployed along their borders.

The Fiji mission is fraught enough due to the difficulties that have seen peacekeepers from other countries withdrawn from the Golan Heights, as well as the Hezbollah activity through this area. Russia’s military support for Syria including the recent supply of anti-aircraft missiles to prevent Israeli attacks on Syrian weapons facilities made Tel Aviv suspicious of Moscow’s influence on Fiji peacekeepers. That might be behind the clarification by Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, the RFMF Land Force Commander, that the Golan Heights deployment already had the equipment they needed.

Just how far Fiji will push the military relationship with Russia and what Israel’s reaction will be are yet untested. Nevertheless, the Bainimarama Government will continue to pursue its BRICS strategy, creating further impediments to a return to a normal relationship with its traditional friends until the impasse over sanctions is resolved.
Even then, Fiji seems committed to new directions that will be more resolutely independent and Asia-focussed than pre-2006 and certainly with less of the ‘traditional’ in its relationships.

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. 

Source: The Strategist

Club Em Designs

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fiji's Peacekeeping Deployment To Golan and Russian Support.

Fiji deployed troops to the UNDOF mission in Golan. Fiji also plans to increase its current troop levels via new recruit drives. Fiji's Land Force Commander Mosese Tikoitoga explained the rationale behind this, including the composition of deployments to United Nations and other Peacekeeping missions. Fiji's military and technical cooperation with Russia is discussed in an audio mashup from various sources, along with some concerns with regards to the safety of Fiji troops. (Audio posted below)

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.

Club Em Designs

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stratfor Video Brief: Australia's Bending Foreign Policy

SiFM earlier post highlighted regional observers, who advocated such a shift.

Stratfor's video brief (posted below)on South Pacific geopolitics and describes Australia's shift in foreign policy towards Fiji.

X-Post-Island Business: New Players In The Region

The New Players in the Region
Pacific diplomacy boosts links with new friends

Nic Maclellan

Pacific nations are largely reliant on aid, trade and investment from traditional partners like Australia, New Zealand, United States, France and Japan. But in recent years, there has been increasing interest in finding new sources of development assistance, economic and political support.
Pacific governments have been diversifying their political and economic links beyond the old regional groupings—led by France, United States and Australia/New Zealand—that dominated islands politics throughout the Cold War years. 

In the mid-1980s, PNG’s then Prime Minister Paias Wingti talked of a ‘Look North’ policy for his country, to extend relations beyond the old colonial ties with Australia.  Today, Pacific Islands Forum countries are looking north-west, north-east and to other points of the compass. There is a growing interest in South–South cooperation and new countries are seeking the status of Post-Forum dialogue partner with the Pacific Islands Forum. This trend is driven by a more co-ordinated and assertive diplomacy on the international stage by island ambassadors at the United Nations such as PNG’s Robert Guba Aisi, Fiji’s Peter Thomson, Solomon Islands’ Colin Beck and former Vanuatu Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas.

Currently, Nauru’s UN Ambassador Marlene Moses is the chair of the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) while Samoa’s ambassador Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia represented Small Islands Developing States on the Transitional Committee for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
The post-coup rift between Canberra, Wellington and Suva has accelerated these existing trends in regional policy. Under the Bainimarama administration, Fiji is broadening its international links by opening embassies in Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2010, Commodore Bainimarama stated that “this significant shift in foreign policy direction heralds the globalisation and maturity of Fiji. It demonstrates Fiji’s intention to become a good and engaged global citizen. Accordingly, over the past year, Fiji has formalised diplomatic relations with many countries with which no ties previously existed. In addition, Fiji has sought membership of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)”.

Fiji was formally admitted to NAM in April 2011, becoming the second islands member alongside Vanuatu. Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, told Radio Australia last year that joining NAM would help refocus Fiji’s relationships away from its traditional partners Australia and New Zealand and allow Suva to pursue its ‘Look North’ policy, through direct engagement with ASEAN countries and strengthen ties to Beijing.
China’s increasing interest in the region is provoking a re-engagement by the United States, highlighted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2010 visit to the region and new military deployments in Guam and Australia announced last year by President Obama. Beijing is active on a range of fronts: investment in the Ramu nickel project in PNG’s Madang province; the provision of aid and soft loans worth US$206 million in 2010; increased fisheries and construction programmes around the region and support for agencies such as the South Pacific Tourism Organisation. But increasing islands ties with China are just part of the picture. Around the region, there are a range of new players that are complicating life for the ANZUS allies—from Cuba, Russia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Luxembourg.

From Havana to Honiara
Cold War paranoia about the Russian threat in the Pacific lost force after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once scorned as a Soviet proxy in the islands, Cuba has improved relations with the Forum islands nations over the last decade.
Solomon Islands and Cuba established diplomatic relations in December 2002 and Havana opened a resident mission in Kiribati in 2006. Honiara then signed a development co-operation agreement with Cuba on March 6, 2007. Other countries expanded ties after a September 2008 Cuba-Pacific summit in Havana, attended by Kiribati President Anote Tong; then Tuvalu Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia; and other Pacific foreign ministers and officials. 

In early 2009, Cuba established formal diplomatic relations with Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Since then, there has been increased diplomatic contact with Cuba on issues like development, decolonisation and climate change, through common membership of AOSIS and the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation.
This South-South link has focused on the health sector. Cuba currently supplies medical staff to Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, while students from these countries study medicine and primary healthcare in Havana. In Solomon Islands, for example, Cuba has agreed to send 40 doctors and offered scholarships for Solomon Islands students to study medicine in Cuba. Solomon Islands announced in March 2011 that it would establish an embassy in Havana—partly in reaction to complaints by Solomons’ medical students that they were not getting the financial and pastoral support they had been promised.

From Russia with love
Russia continues to have small but influential ties in the region, with proposals for investment in PNG’s Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) industry and recent provision of ‘humanitarian’ aid to Nauru. Last year, on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with a range of Pacific leaders and foreign ministers.
Then Lavrov visited the region earlier this year, with stops in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. After courtesy calls on Prime Minister Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Kubuabola, Lavrov joined regional delegates at the Sofitel Fiji Resort in Nadi on February 1 for the ‘Russian Federation and Pacific Islands Countries meeting’.
The Russian minister gained Suva’s agreement to develop a treaty for visa free travel between Russia and Fiji, and Lavrov expressed his government’s interest in co-operating with Pacific states on investment, minerals, energy, tourism, education and medicine. One unspoken element in the dialogue is Moscow’s concern about Beijing’s small but growing influence in the region.
Another of Russia’s interests is winning recognition for two breakaway regions of Georgia—the states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  In 2009, Nauru was one of only four UN member states to grant this recognition, later joined by Vanuatu and Tuvalu who recognised the Russian-backed regions.
Relations with Russia have not gone smoothly. As everyone should remember—when you’re out and about and tempted to dance with a new partner, think about the reaction of those you’ve left at home.
In February, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka and Permanent Secretary Robert Sisilo met bilaterally with the Russian Foreign Minister to discuss the formalisation of Solomons’ diplomatic relations with Russia next October. 

However, on his return to Honiara, Shanel was sacked by Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo who stated: “As a developing country, Solomon Islands should continue to strengthen our ties with traditional partners before pursuing new diplomatic groupings.”  Shanel’s foreign secretary was also reshuffled and is now the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services.
Support for Russia’s policy has also been contested in Port Vila, with attempts to reverse the initial decision on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Vanuatu’s media have raised concern about the role of Mrs Thi Tam Goiset, the country’s first Roving Ambassador to Russian and the Eastern Countries.

Luxembourg and the United Nations
According to the Vanuatu Daily Post, the Ambassador’s contract includes a 15% entitlement to any money secured in the name of the Republic of Vanuatu. For many years, islands governments often paralleled ANZUS policies on many international issues, except where there are clear issues that affected the region. Small Islands States governments like Tuvalu and Kiribati have fought hard against the US, Australian and Canadian coal lobby in international climate negotiations, while Tonga, Samoa and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) nations have consistently voted for nuclear disarmament initiatives at the United Nations, in sharp opposition to Canberra and Washington.

Although constrained by the high cost of attending international meetings and maintaining overseas embassies, Pacific governments have been willing to use their vote as a diplomatic bargaining tool. A solid (and potentially growing) bloc of islands votes is a major resource when it comes to decisions in UN agencies or the regular votes for rotating seats on the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Alongside the UNSC permanent members (USA, UK, France, China and Russia), there are 10 non-permanent seats which rotate among the regional blocs that group UN member states—and people are eager to woo islands votes. Last September, the Asia Group within the United Nations formally changed its name to the ‘Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Islands Developing States’, a reflection of the Pacific’s new diplomatic vibrancy and growing links between Forum Islands Countries and Asian powers.
One of the legacies of colonialism is that Australia and New Zealand are members of the ‘Western European and Others Group’ (WEOG), rather than the Asia-Pacific group.
For the 2013-14 UNSC term, Australia is competing with Finland and Luxembourg for the two seats as part of the WEOG group at the high table. This competition explains the entry of the latest player into Pacific politics—the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Luxembourg has a population the size of Solomon Islands, but it’s one of the richest European states, home to tax havens and extensive private banking.

Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has been actively lobbying for the rotating UNSC seat, travelling to the 2011 NAM meeting in Bali and wooing Fiji and Vanuatu. Prime Minister Bainimarama invited a representative from Luxembourg to attend the March 2011 MSG summit as a ‘special guest’, and both Luxembourg and Finland sent delegations to the 2011 Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Auckland to lobby on the sidelines.

So far, this diplomacy hasn’t borne results. In Auckland, Forum leaders (minus Fiji) reaffirmed their “strong and unanimous support” for Australia’s bid for the UNSC seat in 2013-2014 and New Zealand’s bid for 2015-2016 (Stay tuned for October to see if Fiji can woo any islands state to switch their vote from Australia at the last minute!)

Beyond support for the two largest Forum members, the 2011 leaders’ communique also noted “the importance of Pacific representation on the UN Security Council (UNSC) in ensuring the UNSC remained informed on international issues of concern to the region.” This suggests that the island bids for representation on the UNSC may be in the wind in the coming years. Fiji considered a bid for one of the Asia-Pacific group’s rotating seats in 2012, but agreed to defer its candidacy in favour of Pakistan, which went on to win the seat. Suva may expect the favour returned for 2015-2016, if national elections go ahead as scheduled in 2014 and Fiji is welcomed back into the arms of the ‘international community’.

Nic Maclellan

"The post-coup rift between Canberra, Wellington and Suva has accelerated these existing trends in regional policy [...]

NAM would help refocus Fiji’s relationships away from its traditional partners Australia and New Zealand and allow Suva to pursue its ‘Look North’ policy, through direct engagement with ASEAN countries and strengthen ties to Beijing [...]

Around the region, there are a range of new players that are complicating life for the ANZUS allies—from Cuba, Russia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Luxembourg."

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
In the 1980s, the Kingdom of Tonga was one of the brokers of Libya’s engagement with the islands region. Today, Nuku’alofa has opened the door for another Middle East power—the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
As part of its shift towards renewable energy, Tonga has been a key Pacific player in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which was officially established in January 2009 to “promote the widespread and increased adoption and sustainable use of all forms or renewable energy”.
After ratifying the IRENA Statute in November 2009, Tonga became one of the first countries in the world to be a full member of the new agency. Tonga has been elected to the IRENA Council, which administers decisions of the agency’s global assembly.Through IRENA, successive Tongan governments have built links with the UAE. The then Prime Minister Feleti Sevele led a Tongan delegation to the UAE in January 2010 for the Third IRENA Preparatory Commission meeting.
On January 18, in Abu Dhabi, the MASDAR renewable energy company signed an MOU with the Government of Tonga to build a 500- kilowatt solar photovoltaic power plant in Vava’u, funded by a grant from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, an agency controlled by the UAE government.
The following month, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan toured the Pacific in a private Boeing 737 800, leading a delegation for courtesy visits to Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Palau (UAE is now supporting Palau’s dugong protection programme).
In Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s Crown Prince Tupouto’a-Lavaka signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UAE Foreign Minister on February 9, 2010 and His Royal Highness has been named as the Ambassador Designate to UAE. The UAE has now launched a US$50 million “UAE and Pacific Islands Partnership Programme” to be overseen by the UAE Foreign Ministry and managed by the government-owned Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.
Seeking AOSIS goodwill as one of the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, UAE was also looking for support for their 2010 bid for a seat on the UN Security Council rather than Canada (Canada lost). Canada and the UAE had a long-running dispute over access for Emirates airline to Canadian airports, and the issue of airline access resonates in the Pacific. 

At a time Qantas is looking at its major shareholding in Air Pacific, improved ties to the Emirates airline could be important for Fiji, which has hundreds of nationals serving in Middle East peacekeeping operations.
These links with the UAE opened the way for a June 2010 meeting between Pacific countries and the Arab League, hosted by the UAE Foreign Minister in Abu Dhabi. The ‘Prospects of Cooperation between Arab countries and the Pacific Islands conference’ started discussions on aid and political co-operation and even proposed opening an Arab League office in the islands.

At the meeting, “the Pacific Small Islands Developing States noted the concern of Arab states regarding the conflict in the Middle East, in particular in Palestine. The Pacific Small Islands Developing States undertook to give appropriate consideration to the Arab Peace Initiative, recognising that the views of the Arab States were crucial to a just, comprehensive and permanent peace in the Middle East.”

The meeting communique agreed to support international efforts to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East (with an international conference on weapons of mass destruction in the region scheduled for late 2012). In the coming months, Pacific governments will be lobbied extensively on Iran’s nuclear programme and Israel’s arsenal, estimated at 80-200 nuclear weapons.

Middle East politics
As with the China-Taiwan dispute, the Arab-Israeli conflict will force Pacific islands to juggle allegiances. The 2010 meeting with the Arab League sparked concern amongst the ANZUS allies and Israel, as some participants started to draw away from US-Israeli positions on Palestine. The United States and Israel are lobbying Pacific states against support for Palestinian statehood and, as always, existing aid and trade relations come into play. In December last year, Vanuatu was one of only 15 countries that opposed Palestine’s application to join the United Nations Economic Scientific and Cultural Organisation(UNESCO). 
As the only Pacific country receiving US funds through its Millennium Challenge, Vanuatu’s Education Minister Marcellino Pipite told Vanuatu’s Daily Post that “prior to the UNESCO conference, I met USA officials and presented a request for the second Millennium Challenge Funds and did not want to jeopardise this with voting against Israel.”
Under their Compacts of Free Association, FSM, Marshall Islands and Palau have regularly voted with the United States and Israel against the international consensus on Palestinian rights. But solidarity with the United States comes at a cost. After the Marshall Islands opposed statehood for the Palestinians by abstaining in a 2011 UN General Assembly vote, Marshalls’ Foreign Minister Phillip Muller complained: “We were then told in a diplomatic note from the UAE that we were no longer eligible to participate in the renewable energy fund.We’ve been penalised for being friends with certain countries and no one is stepping up to fill the void.” Other countries with strong ties to Australia, like Solomon Islands, have also developed new ties with non-traditional partners in recent years. Honiara has been building diplomatic links with Iran and has joined Vanuatu to call for an end to the US embargo of Cuba.
In 2008, Solomon Islands’ then Foreign Minister William Haomae met his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in New York to discuss formalising diplomatic relations. Haomae then led a Solomon’s delegation to Tehran and the two countries signed a Cooperative Memorandum to explore development cooperation agreements. At the time, the Solomon Islands government rejected criticism from Israel over alleged Iranian influence, with an official stating: “We have no enemies, and therefore, we will be friends to all the nations, including both Israel and Iran.”
Israeli officials travelled to Honiara in 2009 to lobby the Sikua government over perceived policy shifts on Middle East affairs. In November 2009, Solomon Islands was the only Pacific islands nation to vote in the UN General Assembly in support of a resolution calling for independent investigation of allegations of war crimes documented in the Goldstone report (a study by a leading South African jurist which criticised human rights violations by Israel and Hamas during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in early 2009). Australia, Nauru and the US Compact states all voted to reject the report, with other Forum members abstaining.
In response to this increasing Pacific dialogue with the Arab world, Israel is increasing its regional lobbying.
In January 2010, FSM President Emanuel Mori and Nauru’s then President Marcus Stephen travelled to Israel, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres. In April 2011, the speaker of Israel’s Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, visited Tonga to improve relations between the two countries, while last August Israel’s President Shimon Peres offered Nauru support for desalination projects.
Tel Aviv has approved new aid programmes through MASHAV (Israel’s International Development Cooperation Agency). TAG International Development will implement development assistance programmes in Solomon Islands, with visiting delegations investigating agricultural projects in Malaita. Israeli experts are also looking at a hydroelectricity project in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Timor-Leste and Indonesia
Closer to home, independent Timor-Leste gained Special Observer Status at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2002. Even though Timor-Leste is still primarily looking west to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Dili is co-operating with the Melanesian Spearhead Group on trade, climate change and other issues.
In early 2011, MSG member states agreed to allow Indonesia and Timor-Leste to attend the March 2011 MSG leaders’ summit as observers. In September 2011, Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão visited the MSG Secretariat in Port Vila (the first visit by an overseas head of government since the secretariat was opened in 2008) and Timorese officials announced a US$500,000 grant for salaries and projects.
For many years, Indonesian diplomats have lobbied the islands region from embassies in Canberra, Wellington, Beijing and Tokyo but now Jakarta is seeking more links on the ground. Indonesia’s observer status at the March 2011 MSG summit was followed the next month by the opening of its new embassy in Suva. The Kilman government in Vanuatu too is moving closer to Indonesia, with the December 2011 signing in Jakarta of a Vanuatu-Indonesia Development Co-operation Agreement. These moves have dismayed the West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL), which has an information office in Port Vila (especially as the new co-operation agreement stresses Indonesian territorial integrity, sovereignty over West Papua and prohibits Vanuatu from interfering in Indonesia’s “internal affairs”).
Indonesia’s MSG observer status was a sharp blow for the West Papuan nationalist movement, which has been lobbying for that status for many years.
Indonesia is not alone as an active regional player from Asia. Malaysian corporation Naim is building roads across Fiji, Rimbunan Hijau dominates PNG’s forestry sector while Korea’s POSCO has struck a major nickel deal with the FLNKS-dominated northern province in New Caledonia.
In 2011, Korea tripled its development aid to the islands region from US$300,000 to $US1 million as part of the Lee Myung-bak government’s “New Asia Diplomacy” initiative. Last June, Korean diplomats and representatives of 14 islands nations gathered in Seoul for the first ever Korea-Pacific summit (by coincidence, Korea is bidding for one of the rotating Asia-Pacific seats at the UN Security Council in 2013-14!).

Canberra’s dilemma
Some Australian officials have expressed concern that the islands’ diversifying diplomatic links are simply a matter of chequebook diplomacy. But there are also some fundamental policy differences between Pacific states and Canberra, Washington and Paris. Some islands leaders increasingly attracted by economic models from Asia that involve capital controls, government intervention and reliance on state-run enterprises, rather than the Washington consensus of trade liberalisation and privatisation.  At a time when Canberra backs France’s ongoing colonial role in the South Pacific and maintains a paltry 5% target for greenhouse emissions cuts by 2020, it’s hardly surprising that Pacific nations are looking to new friends. The new role of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) grouping within the United Nations is causing debate in Australia. 

A 2011 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) notes: “The importance of PSIDS for Australia’s regional position is that, to some extent, the group demonstrates our alienation from the FICs.
The Pacific Islands Forum has had observer status in the General Assembly since 1994. The increased prominence of PSIDS derives from the FICs’ preference for a form of engagement that excludes Australia and New Zealand, which would be included in any discussions under the PIF banner. The PSIDS feel very satisfied with their inclusion in the UN’s Asia Group, especially under its new name.”
With former NSW Premier Bob Carr taking over from Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister and initiating talks with New Zealand about new policies towards the Bainimarama administration, there are signs that Canberra is starting to respond to the new regional dynamic.

Sept 2012: Russian s ready to land
By Davendra Sharma

If Russians have yet to make a mark on the Pacific, just wait until September 2012 when Moscow hosts the region’s most powerful meet—the Asia Pacific Economic Community Summit. Already eyes of the regional superpowers like Australia and the United States are on Russia as it prepares to host the influential meeting of leaders from the two regions, Asia and Pacific. They will be keen to study how Moscow will enhance its regional profile and gain an opportunity to establish itself in the region.
Since the visit last January by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov to Australia, Fiji and Kiribati as part of his five-nation tour, the European country has been accused of chequebook diplomacy.
But economic deals are not only interests Moscow has in the Pacific, it also has military and political intentions as the former Soviet power embraces the Pacific region.
In a report, The phantom of the Pacific: Reconsidering Russia as a Pacific power prior to APEC–2012, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) argues that increased Russian diplomacy in key parts of Asia and Oceania is driven by “economic, political and military strategic considerations”.
It said that the economic driver to Russia’s re-engagement in the Asia Pacific region is also to expand and find markets for its burgeoning energy industry. Russia has been able to woo support at the UN for recognition of its disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia—the scene of Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia.
While the region’s biggest aid donor, Australia, accuses Russia of “exploiting” some of the world’s smallest economies like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Vanuatu and Fiji, Russia is marching on and forging ties with whichever countries it can in the Pacific Islands Forum region. Russia is said to have poured tens of millions of development aid to these five countries in return for their acknowledgement of the Russian puppet states. The former phosphate-rich Nauru, which now relies on foreign remittances and assistance on living expenses, was reportedly given US$50 million. 
The new ASPI report also questions Russia’s political intentions as Moscow increases its presence in Oceania which it says “provides the nation with both a challenge and an opportunity, because it allows Russia a platform to display its restored military power to potential allies and friends, including through military exercises and out-of-area deployments.

Kiribati deal
Russia it seems is taking a leaf out of China’s policy book as it pursues economic deals and assistance in the Pacific islands. China also launched a campaign in the Oceania region in the early 1990s as it competed with Taiwan over recognition by Forum members like Kiribati, which has very limited natural resources and significant lag behind other Forum countries. But to Russia’s surprise, the governments in Tarawa over the last 20 years have had a long standing patterns of creating ties with new economic powers in the Pacific—be it Australia, China, Taiwan, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany or Cuba. Russia is just another new player.
For years it was China versus Taiwan. While China helped build the main infrastructure in Kiribati as well as supply specialist and skilled workers like doctors, Taiwan built a A$8 million stadium. And now it is Russia versus Georgia—both former members of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. As one regional Auckland-based commentator puts it, “It all depends on how much the latter and its Western backers would be willing to donate to this cause.”
And so as Australia’s parliamentary secretary for the Pacific islands affairs, Richard Marles argues that while competition benefits consumers the most, the resource-poor islands countries can only win here at the expense of the regional superpowers like Australia and New Zealand watching from the sidelines.
While long-time major donors accuse Russia of pressuring the islands countries of trading their sovereignty, the deals actually end up benefitting the poor countries in Oceania. "This kind of cheque-book diplomacy undermines development assistance in the region," said Marles.

When Lavrov decided a stopover in Fiji to meet military strongman, Commodore Bainimarama, Australia and New Zealand were left wondering how much deeper could Russia penetrate into relations with Oceania.
Like Kiribati, Suva under Bainimarama has stepped up ties with China and Russia. Shunned by New Zealand and Australia, Fiji has moved swiftly in 2012 to also reaffirm closer relationship with the United States and other Asian democracies like Japan. The Australian thinking however is that Russia has more military and strategic considerations than any other agenda as it pierces through the Oceania region. “More traditional geostrategic factors are also driving the Russians to give the Pacific greater prominence in the coming decade,” noted the ASPI report.

Russia’s military potency second to none
It asserts that the Russians are concerned that on one hand Washington is talking up downsizing its military might, it is still pouring millions into its Pacific allies and territories like Guam, American Samoa, FSM and the Northern Marianas.
Russia is only second to the US in terms of being the world’s most potent military power and it also the world’s sixth largest economy. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where Australia aspires to be in years to come.  Russian interests in the South Pacific could also extend to mining as that country has the world’s third largest gold reserves. Mining of gold is a major source of employment in PNG and Fiji, where Australian companies are predominantly engaged.
Russia also enjoys an average annual growth of over 4%, one of the highest in modern-day Europe, most of which is slowly recovering from the three-year recession. The report forewarns that renewed Russian interest in the Pacific region should not been taken lightly by existing economic powers. “Russia’s long-term economic agenda and its clear interest in cooperation rather than confrontation drive this comeback. Its intention to rebuild a credible military capability in the Pacific is driven not by threat perceptions alone, but by a pragmatic need to protect its national economic and political interests,” it said.

Further reading:

Club Em Designs

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

X-Post from Island Business: A New Era of Geopolitics In The Region

Michael O’Keefe•

Last month, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Fiji. There has been much speculation about the purpose of the visit, but this needs to be contextualised so we can make sense of its significance.

The extremes of opinion waiver between arguing that the visit heralds a major shift in the foreign affairs of the Pacific to arguing that it was simply routine diplomacy. It was neither. We need to dig deeper. We need to ask Why Fiji [the South Pacific?]? Why Now?

An overarching answer to these questions is geopolitics and strategic change. Geopolitics relates to the intersection of geography and politics. It focuses on shifts in relative power and what we are witnessing is a larger global geopolitical contest being played out in the Pacific.

To-date most discussion of regional strategic affairs has focused on China’s growing interest and whether this equates to influence. This is an issue worthy of attention but not the focus here. Suffice to say, the era of crude chequebook diplomacy whereby China and Taiwan faced off in the Pacific over diplomatic recognition is over.

China is engaging the Pacific at all levels (diplomatic, economic, cultural) and is staking its claim to being a worthy partner, especially in the context of Australian and New Zealand isolation of, and disengagement from Fiji.

Michael O’Keefe

"The political situation in Fiji may provide opportunities for engagement for the Chinese or Russians but for all powers. Fiji has strategic significance beyond its political or economic power.

This is the oft-cited ‘hub of the Pacific argument’. The ‘hub’ argument deserves close scrutiny because it is mentioned so regularly and often without explanation.

The point is that historical trends have been based on geography and have left Fiji at the centre of diplomatic, economic and educational interaction and cooperation in the region."

China’s growing interests in the region have not gone unnoticed in Washington and Canberra (and Moscow).
US President Barack Obama’s recent comments about the renewed US role in the Pacific century have highlighted the potential for strategic competition in the region the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s.

Back then the issue was Soviet fishing agreements, which were seen as avenues for access for intelligence gathering in an area of primary strategic concern to the US and to its allies, Australia and New Zealand.
Fears over Soviet penetration in the region were proven to be exaggerated, but they did prompt a diplomatic reaction. The same is happening now but in the lead-up to the visit the Russian Foreign Minister himself highlighted that now it is Russia attempting to balance the US and China rather than being the main strategic competitor.

Why now? The most obvious answer to this question relates to global geopolitical changes. That is, that a rising China is challenging the US and that it is responding. Countries like Russia, South Korea and Indonesia see that their interests could be impacted and are taking action. This orthodox view is dealt with in-depth in the commentary so it won’t be a focus here.

The rest of this article focuses on issues closer to home.

It may also not be a coincidence that political instability in Fiji after the 1987 coup wrong footed the traditional metropolitan powers in relation to local support for protecting their strategic interests. At this stage, it was the potential for Soviet expansionism in an area that had hitherto been Australia and New Zealand’s patch.

Interestingly, at the time China also took note insofar as political change created opportunities for Taiwan to gain some headway, albeit briefly. Now it is arguable that China is benefitting from political change in Fiji and it is not only the Americans and their Australian and New Zealand partners that are taking note.

The political situation in Fiji may provide opportunities for engagement for the Chinese or Russians but for all powers. Fiji has strategic significance beyond its political or economic power. This is the oft-cited ‘hub of the Pacific argument’. The ‘hub’ argument deserves close scrutiny because it is mentioned so regularly and often without explanation. The point is that historical trends have been based on geography and have left Fiji at the centre of diplomatic, economic and educational interaction and cooperation in the region.

This is a colonial legacy, but one which Fijian leaders from Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to the present have fostered. The hub may relate to the diplomatic missions that serve many Pacific Islands Countries (PICs), regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum or Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the headquarters of major intergovernmental organisations, such as the UN, or non government organisations in Suva, the University of the South Pacific etc.

The hub also relates to Suva as a major economic hub for exports, the trans-shipment of essential supplies, such as fuel, etc. Economics is often cited as a core strategic issue, but in perspective Pacific trade with any of the interested external powers is relatively small in comparison to their economic interests elsewhere.
Even the most generous predictions would not place the Pacific in the top 20 trading partners for the countries competing for influence in the region.

Furthermore, for the foreseeable future the potential for significant growth may be more illusory than real in all areas (such as mining seabed resources) except tourism which will maintain its traditional position as an area where the potential for growth can be realised. As such we can largely discount the economic angle at this stage, despite much commentary on the bauxite mining and fishing agreements.

However, PICS are right to be concerned over unsustainable economics in relation to mining or fisheries. It is the strategic aspect of geopolitics that provides the clearest explanation for Russia’s recent diplomatic manoeuvring.

Fiji gives a country or organisation access to the Pacific. It is an economy of scale, and for a country rediscovering the Pacific, such as Russia is now, it is essential to be on good terms with the Fijian government to reap the benefits of the hub. As such, the Foreign Minister’s meetings involved the Fijian government, but other PICs were invited to meet and attend diplomatic functions in Nadi.

Fiji’s ‘Look North’ policy has opened the door to greater cooperation. In this context Russia’s advances could be added to a long list of countries that have increased their profiles in the Pacific since 2006, not least of which is China, South Korea, Indonesia, the US and UAE. Discussions with other countries, and organisations, such as the Arab League are also underway.

Suva has also reasserted its leadership role. It has been suspended from the pre-eminent regional organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum, following the 2006 coup. However, it has effectively used the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) whose members include the larger PICs to forward its interests.
The MSG also highlights that there is an alternative to the PIF and one which is more relevant to Fiji’s interests than the other PICs.

During the Cold War the catch cry was “The Russians are coming! Run for the hills”. The concern over Russian diplomacy in the South Pacific is reminiscent of this sort of thinking. But context counts and the South Pacific of 2012 is not the South Pacific of 1980s.

Furthermore, the hub, Fiji, is not the Fiji of the 1980s either. There is a growing confidence in Fijian foreign affairs and the expectation is that the partnership and friendship posed by any country will be closely scrutinised through the lens of Fijian national interests.

The time when any great power would overtly influence Fijian diplomacy may be at an end, with obvious implications for traditional partners or new players on the block. There are dangers and vulnerabilities that come hand in hand with the opportunities to be gained from the greater attention that great powers are showing the Pacific.

Some of the distortions evidenced during the era of checkbook diplomacy come to mind, and this will be the issue in relation to recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There are already rumours of millions of dollars being spent to influence the votes of some PICs.

Furthermore, Russia’s main competitor in this regard, Georgia, has also been showing interest with increased aid and diplomatic representations. Russia has directly stated that Abkhazia is not the issue and Lavrov did not publicly raise it while visiting the Pacific, but this denial and Georgia’s interest should be treated as a signal of the opposite.

Any PICs building close relations would be factoring this into their engagement, especially considering Georgia broke off relations with Tuvalu over this issue last month. Global geopolitical reordering is playing out in the Pacific. The post-2006 diplomatic standoff has led to diplomatic opportunities. Fijian leaders are showing a new confidence by taking advantage of these opportunities and so too have many foreign powers that have hitherto shown little interest in the region.

Through Fiji’s leadership and role as a regional hub other PICs have also reaped the benefits of these developments. There are benefits and costs involved in this sudden interest, but PICs are showing greater confidence in viewing the benefits of cooperation through the lens of national interest.

Maintaining this focus will be their challenge as this trend intensifies in the years ahead.

• Dr Michael O’Keefe is a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University & Adjunct Associate Professor at the Centre for Regional Affairs, University of Fiji.

Friday, February 24, 2012

X-Post from Grubsheet: #56 KEVIN RUDD’S PACIFIC NEGLECT

Frank Bainimarama ( photo: Graham Davis )
Frank Bainimarama – Fiji’s prime minister and the current chair of the four-nation Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) – has joined the chorus of criticism of Kevin Rudd in advance of Monday’s leadership vote in Australia, accusing him of having neglected the Pacific as foreign minister. He said Canberra’s lack of attention to the region – and especially its policy of shunning Fiji – had weakened Australian influence in the Pacific and had created a vacuum that bigger powers were moving to fill. Countries such as China and Russia were building relations with the smaller island states and strengthening their presence in Australia’s backyard. “They should be worried but they’re not”, he said. “ I don’t think they are taking it very seriously”.

In an interview with Grubsheet in Suva, Commodore Bainimarama revealed that both the United States and New Zealand had broken ranks with Australia and had renewed their official contacts with Fiji, severed after his coup in December 2006. No Australian diplomat or minister has had a formal meeting with the Fijian leader in the intervening five years in protest at the removal at gunpoint of the elected government of Laisenia Qarase, which Bainimarama claimed was racist and corrupt. Yet the United States no longer has such qualms, evidently concerned that Australia’s continuing hard-line stance has driven the Fijian leader into the arms of the Chinese.

Contact resumed : Frankie Reed 
( Photo: US State Dept) 
The American ambassador in Suva, Frankie Reed, has resumed regular contacts and a team of FBI agents has been in the Fijian capital training local police. “We have no problems with our relationship with the United States”, Bainimarama said. “The American ambassador came to see me and attends all our functions. She’s friendly and our relationship is good”. While the Fijian leader is banned from Australia – along with anyone associated with his regime – he was granted an open visa to visit the US last September and had engagements in Connecticut, Florida and Tennessee. “It seems odd that I am welcome in the world’s greatest democracy and not Australia and NZ but I’ve come to accept it”, he said.

In the case of New Zealand, Commodore Bainimarama said the renewed level of engagement was more modest. The travel bans on him and members of the regime remained but unlike Mr Rudd, the NZ foreign minister, Murray McCully, had been in contact with Fiji’s foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. “I think the Kiwis are more understanding than the Australians. I don’t really know why but there’s a large number of Fijians in NZ and I think they’ve put pressure on them to talk to us”. “I see representatives of some of the world’s biggest democracies – the Americans, the Indians, the Indonesians, the Japanese, the South Koreans and the French but not Australia. It doesn’t make sense”, he said.

"Increasing acceptance"(photo: Graham Davis)
While the Fijian leader declined to speculate on why American policy had changed beyond agreeing that an “about face” had taken place, concern has been expressed in Washington about Beijing’s ambitions in the region and especially its close ties with Fiji. Describing China as a “friend” which had given Fiji “about $200-million in soft loans”, Commodore Bainimarama said Australia only had itself to blame for the increasing Chinese presence in the region. “They are giving us support politically because everyone has withdrawn. They have recognised our sovereignty, which is very important for us”, Bainimarama said.
The Fijian leader said Mr Rudd had been noticeably absent from regional capitals during his 17 months in the foreign affairs portfolio. He had made only one foray into the region, a single weekend trip to Papua New Guinea last October. “We have never seen him around the smaller Pacific island nation states”, Bainimarama said. “He’s complained about everyone coming here but hasn’t come here himself.”

Sergey Lavrov in Nadi (photo: Jet newspaper)

The Fijian leader contrasted Mr Rudd’s lack of interest with the recent visit to Fiji by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who made the first ever journey to the region by a senior Russian official. He said that unlike Australia, Russia appeared to recognised the growing importance of the smaller island states and wanted closer ties. “Maybe he (Lavrov) thinks everyone has backed off and this part of the world needs assistance”, he said. During his visit to Nadi at the beginning of the month, Mr Lavrov held talks with Commodore Bainimarama and other Pacific leaders who are members of a new voting bloc at the United Nations that Fiji has played a major role in forging – the eleven member Pacific Small Island  Developing States ( PSIDS).

Graham Davis On Grubsheet

"Describing China as a “friend” which had given Fiji “about $200-million in soft loans”, Commodore Bainimarama said Australia only had itself to blame for the increasing Chinese presence in the region[...]
The Fijian leader contrasted Mr Rudd’s lack of interest with the recent visit to Fiji by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who made the first ever journey to the region by a senior Russian official. He said that unlike Australia, Russia appeared to recognised the growing importance of the smaller island states and wanted closer ties
[...]The Fijian leader accused Australia and NZ of driving a wedge through the Pacific by playing Polynesian countries off against their Melanesian neighbours. He described the Samoan leader, Tuilaepa Malielegao, as an “Aussie and Kiwi puppet” for his continuing attacks on Fiji."

The Fijian leader castigated Mr Rudd’s junior minister for the Pacific, Richard Marles, for having expressed concern that Russia was exploiting small states in the Pacific and was engaged in chequebook diplomacy. “He (Marles) is a hypocrite. He’s talking about chequebook diplomacy? Hasn’t he been giving money to the Pacific island nations in the last five or ten years?” Commodore Bainimarama denied that Mr Lavrov had offered Fiji and the other PSIDS countries financial assistance to recognise its puppet governments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia – territory also claimed by Georgia. “He gave Fiji a donation to help us with our flood appeal but that was it”.

"Hypocrite" - Richard Marles (Photo: DFAT)
Australia cut off ties with Fiji after Commodore Bainimarama’s 2006 coup and imposed a set of “smart sanctions” – including travel bans – in support of its demand for an immediate return to democracy. The Fijian leader has steadfastly refused to comply, insisting instead on a new constitution to remove racial inequality, followed by elections in 2014 based on one man one vote. Previous elections in Fiji have been weighted in favour of the indigenous majority.

As foreign minister, Mr Rudd resolutely ignored pleas to re-engage with Fiji, including from two influential foreign affairs think tanks, the Lowy Institute and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Last year, the head of the Lowy Institute’s Melanesian program, Jenny Hayward-Jones, also accused Mr Rudd of neglecting the region and called for re-engagement to encourage Fiji to stick to its promise to restore democracy in 2014.

Commodore Bainimarama said Australian policy towards Fiji under Kevin Rudd was governed by “pride, not good policy”.“ He has personalised it, the way he called me a pariah and a dictator. He is a very ambitious politician and it’s been clear that he wanted to be prime minister again”. Describing Mr Rudd as the “main impediment” to better relations with Australia, Commodore Bainimarama said Canberra had continued to insist on an immediate election in Fiji even though it could never be truly democratic without fundamental reforms. “We are beginning work in a couple of weeks on a new constitution. We are not going to have elections tomorrow. We’re not going to have elections next year. We’re going to have elections when we’re ready and that will be before September 2014, as I’ve said all along”.

Commodore Bainimarama said his election as chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group after Australia succeeded in having Fiji suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum – the other major regional grouping  -showed that Canberra was out of touch with sentiment in the region. The MSG encompasses 95 per cent of Pacific islanders, living in its member states of   Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu plus the Kanaks of New Caledonia. “Only Canberra and Wellington see me as an outcast”, Commodore Bainimarama said. “Nobody else does”.

Prefers another Queen's man, Tony Abbott (Photo: Graham Davis)
The Fijian leader accused Australia and NZ of driving a wedge through the Pacific by playing Polynesian countries off against their Melanesian neighbours. He described the Samoan leader, Tuilaepa Malielegao, as an “Aussie and Kiwi puppet” for his continuing attacks on Fiji. Tuilaepa has accused Commodore Bainimarama of “lying” about his intention to return to democracy in 2014 and said he was “leading everyone down the cassava patch”.

The Fijian leader said he was not willing to trade insults with his Samoan counterpart but it was clear that he was doing the bidding of Australia and NZ. “It seems that every time he runs out of money, somebody winds him up and he plays to their tune. He goes “Fiji is no good, there’s a lot of problems in Fiji”. I don’t know why he spends a lot of time rubbishing Fiji but I have no time to be thinking about him”, he said.
Commodore Bainimarama said that while he “didn’t want to get involved in Australian domestic politics”,

Fiji’s best hope for a change in Australia’s attitude rested with Tony Abbott winning the next election. “I understand that Abbott is more understanding of the situation than Kevin Rudd and his team. And, yes, I would think there may be a change in policy.” Commodore Bainimarama agreed that Tony Abbott’s reputation as a sportsman and champion boxer meant that he was more likely to get on with him. “I would love him to bring about some change in policy, in the way we conduct our business. Yes, I will try to reach out to him if he wins. He’s welcome in Suva at any time”.

A shorter version of this article has appeared in News Limited papers in Australia, including Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

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