Narsey, Fiji and the Pacific Islands Forum

Prof. Wadan Narsey
As always, Wadan makes some good points (his articles in the Fiji Times are solely missed even though the anti-Bainimarama blogs recycle them all) but why does he see membership of the Forum as so important to friendship and normal diplomatic relations between Fiji and Australia/NZ?  Fiji is not the only Pacific Island nation to have serious concerns about the overly dominant role of the 'big brothers" in regional affairs.  It could well be time for that role to be re-examined — politely, of course. - Croz


Bainimarama and the Pacific Islands Forum: 
a Storm in a Calm Ocean

By Prof. Wadan Narsey


Thinking members of the public would have been pleased to see the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) announce that Fiji was being admitted back into this regional organization.
But immediately, they would have been horrified that Bainimarama is demanding, as a pre-condition, that either Australia and NZ relinquish being full members and become only development partners like Japan, China, Korea and USA OR that these other countries are allowed to become full members.
This unnecessary aggression from Bainimarama does not help his other government ministers in their work, it does not help the Fiji people in their relations with Australia and NZ, it does not help the other Forum member countries, it does not help the Forum staff in their work, and it undermines Bainimarama’s own personal standing in the diplomatic world..
It is a pity that the Fiji First Party does not have senior advisers who could encourage Bainimarama to make the transition from his stormy eight years of military dictatorship to being an elected prime minister accountable to his people, and working diplomatically in their interests.
Both Bainimarama and Fiji stand to gain, if he could.
The expulsion fall-out
Fiji was expelled from the Forum when Bainimarama failed to hold elections in May 2009.
The argument was that the Forum wanted to give a clear signal to the region that it seriously disapproved of the illegal removal of a lawfully elected government.
Whether the instigator of the expulsion was Australia or not and whether that decision, in hindsight, was a wise one for the Forum Secretariat to make, will be debated till the cows come home.
But the expulsion, along with travel sanctions and the mutual expulsion of high commissioners, ruined political relations between Fiji and its two traditional donors and split the Forum. The investment climate was damaged as potential investors worried about how badly relations could deteriorate.
To the relief of many, the tourism industry and many aid projects, as well as people-to-people relationships and emigration to Australia and NZ, continued as usual, although investment did not recover.
Fiji also strengthened extremely beneficial foreign relations with and sources of funding from countries such as China, India and Malaysia. By and large, it escaped the diplomatic freeze with Australia and NZ relatively unscathed.
The continued aggression
It is natural that the Bainimarama Government is still unhappy with Australia and NZ given their opposition to his coup over the last eight years.
But that opposition was a principled one on the basis that it was unacceptable for a military coup to depose a lawfully elected government, and this was not a precedent to be encouraged elsewhere in the Pacific.
The Bainimarama Government should acknowledge that it has been a military dictatorship for eight years, with no accountability to the ordinary people of Fiji (not having been elected by them). Their hostility towards Australia and NZ did not need to take into account the people’s views.
But since the September 17 elections, with Bainimarama elected as the Prime Minister of Fiji, he also loses that total freedom he had previously.
An elected accountable government
The Bainimarama Government is now a democratically elected government, representing the interests of the majority of the voters of this country, and accountable to them.
Without fear of contradiction, one can say that the majority of the people of Fiji would like the complete normalization of relations with Australia and NZ, without any unnecessary and unwarranted aggression on the part of their elected leaders.
With tens of thousands of Fijian families having emigrated to Australia and NZ, there are many family ties between Fiji and both countries, and any chilling of relations would be to their disadvantage, on both sides.
The majority of Fiji military personnel and their families have welcomed the normalization of relations: they have no wish to go back to the dark days between 2009 and 2014 when they were banned from traveling to Australia and NZ.
The majority of Fiji citizens who have taken up board memberships despite the sanctions, and those who are now willing to take on these social responsibilities in the future, have also welcomed the normalization of relations and the ending of travel bans on them.
The large numbers of our students who go to study in Australia, and the large numbers of labourers for whom temporary guest worker schemes may soon open up in Australia and NZ, would also not like to see any further deterioration in relations between Fiji and Australia, in case their opportunities in Australia and NZ are affected.
The ordinary people of Fiji wish to see the close, warm relations with the Australian and NZ governments that existed pre-2006, and which they know very well cannot be replaced by Fiji’s new relations with China, India, Malaysia or Russia.
In the thawing of Fiji’s foreign relations with Australia and NZ, the elected Bainimarama Government is duty bound to place the people’s interest first, and not their leaders’ own egos.
The Bainimarama Government should note that there are many fronts on which the ordinary people of Fiji can benefit from more favorable foreign policy treatment by Australia and NZ: temporary work visas, easier immigration entry for permanent residency or holidays, strengthening of military ties, greater integration in sports such as rugby, soccer and netball, and in culture, disaster relief, policing and protection of national economic zones against illegal fisheries, etc.
Most important, it is on the cards that renewed confidence by both foreign and local investors may drive economic growth well above the 4% or so currently predicted for the next few years, and nothing should be done to undermine this burst of confidence and investment.
These positive developments can only be encouraged if Australia and NZ view our government as friendly and co-operative, instead of being unnecessarily aggressive and hostile, the stance currently being projected by the Bainimarama Government.
Adapting diplomatically
Bainimarama must surely know that Forum cannot and will not give in to his “ultimatum” to expel Australia and NZ as full members, given that they are the ones who provide the funds to keep the Forum going, not the other countries on whose behalf Fiji claims to be speaking.
China, Korea, Japan and US must be diplomatically affronted, astonished or just merely amused, that Fiji is demanding that they be included as full members of the Forum without them being asked, or without asking for it themselves.
Other Forum countries, especially those of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, who have been torn apart these last eight years because of the conflicting pulls of being on good terms with Australia and NZ (who are vital to their economies) and giving fraternal support to Fiji, would like to see an end to the turbulence in the Forum and a return to their annual meetings with peaceful wining and dining.
Let us also not forget that unnecessary diplomatic spats between Forum member countries must also be extremely demoralizing for the staff of the Forum Secretariat, who would like to focus on their tasks at hand and not be thinking perpetually about Fiji’s ‘Damocles Sword’ hanging over them. Their predicament is made worse with the establishment by Fiji of a competing Pacific Island Development Forum, funded by China.
Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola, whatever gloss he puts on the Fiji statement, must be tearing his hair out to see his hard work at rebuilding good relations with our traditional partners being undone by continuing diplomatic aggression from his prime minister.
Many other ministers (and their ministries) who also work closely with important Australian and NZ aid projects in Fiji will find relationships made more difficult.
It is a pity that the Bainimarama/Khaiyum elections strategy and results give the appearance that Bainimarama is the only popular Fiji First Party candidate, and that the others in his Cabinet have little democratic mandate and popular support in their own right.
It is a pity that the Fiji First Party does not have a depth of secure leadership that could confidently advise Bainimarama to put his stormy diplomatic past behind, and trim his sails to the calmer ocean that Fiji has steered to after the September elections.
Not only would Bainimarama benefit personally, but so also would Fiji if such diplomatic storms are not unnecessarily created in our calm Pacific ocean.
Postscript
A diplomatic solution may be in the offing. The Bainimarama Government has agreed to Australia’s proposal to have a meeting in Sydney in 2015 to discuss the architecture of all the regional organizations, presumably including the Forum Secretariat and Pacific Islands Development Forum, largely funded by China. What will come of it is anyone’s guess. Probably there will be a greater role for China and India in the regional organizations, and no doubt a greater collective co-ordination and rationalization of aid that countries like Australia and NZ already attempt.

Wadan Narsey is Adjunct Professor, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University and former Professor of Economics, The University of the South Pacific.

Comments

Scott MacWilliam said…
Dr Narsey makes several important points, not least the need for the current Fiji government to work out how to make the transition from an unelected regime to one which has majority electoral support. Being anti-ANZ may of course be popular and assist this transition, even if it is done crudely. The advice the PM and Fji First received in running their electoral campaign was very effective: whether an organisation which has an appalling human rights record internationally is appropriate to provide further advice now the government has been elected seems doubtful.
However I agree with the general thrust of the Fiji government's position on the Forum: ANZ should be treated like other donor countries and take a similar relationship with Japan et al in PIF. That down-grading may even assist ANZ to lift their game in how they treat South Pacific countries where nationalism is an increasingly powerful sentiment.
However Dr Narsey is incorrect in an important aspect of his argument when he states: `It is natural that the Bainimarama Government is still unhappy with Australia and NZ given their opposition to his coup over the last eight years.
But that opposition was a principled one on the basis that it was unacceptable for a military coup to depose a lawfully elected government, and this was not a precedent to be encouraged elsewhere in the Pacific.'
Yet ANZ had previously encouraged the overthrow of an elected government, not publicly in advance but in 1999-2001 during the planning for and after the fact when both countries' governments refused to demand or even call for the re-instatement of the People's Coalition government. John Locke's emphasis on tacit consent springs to mind.The Speight takeover and then election of the Qarase government received effective approval from ANZ: principles nil, pragmatic opportunism one. The Australian Coalition government's sanctions imposed against the 2006 takeover was similar pragmatic opportunism, In 2006 the Australian position was dressed up as a matter of principle when it was mainly driven by opposition to what had been deposed in Fiji: commercial buccaneers more in ideological sympathy with what the Coalition represented in Australia. In 2006 the Australian position was dressed up as opposition to military rule rather than in 2000 enthusiasm for indigenous rights and opposition to a Fili Labour Party-led government.
In Australia during both coups the John Howard-led government was conservative, even reactionary. Conservatives as is so often proclaimed, don't do principles, only pragmatism. Alexander Downer, then Foreign Minister in 2006 who imposed sanctions admitted last year on Australian television that his first responsibility as minister was to represent Australian firms when the government of East Timor sought to renegotiate unfavourable leases in the Timor Sea, Never mind that country is impoverished and battling to bring anything like development to some of the poorest people on earth. Peter Reith, the recent front-man on the Multinational Observer Group, was a prominent anti-union, anti-Labor Party hit man. Regarding Reith, best known in Australia as the advocate for training strike breakers in the Middle East and balaclava-disguised goons to break a waterfront strike, as fit to pronounce on Fiji's transition to democracy was just one of the ironies of the recent election. To its shame and ultimate inability to affect events in Fiji, the Labor Party government led by Kevin Rudd picked on the anti-union practices of the military regime to keep following the conservative lead.
Don't expect principle as the basis for government policy, Dr Narsey-follow the money and political practices which support those who accumulate it.
Anonymous said…
Bravo, Scott MacWilliam.
Ratu said…
What will Wadan say now to above comments?
Welcome Home said…
Since when in the last twenty-seven years have the interests of the 'ordinary Fijian' had value more than a brass razoo?
%$#@! said…
so the solution is for Aus and NZ EU and US to support every coup in the region if the plotters feel they are well intentioned?? I like that standard if ity going to be applied to everyone and is going to apply from now on. I look forward to those governments coming out in support and recognition of the next coup to topple Baimimarama just as he did Qarase. BTW what is the 'first' responsibility of an Australian foreign minister,? to represent the wishes of the military regime in fiji??? FOff . It is breathtaking to see that apologists for the regime and their deess blame everyone else for policies that were brought about by fiji's military. There was no popular uprising of local people, no riots, nothing of the kind. The fact is the military were thratend and they acted for themselves and their own interests and the rest was made up as they went along to sustain their own power to this day. 'Natural that the Bainimarama Government is still unhappy with Australia and NZ', well so what. we will get around to him when we are good and ready. I notice though he already has a stack of things he wants from us as some kind of reward or sense of entitlement. He can FOff too!
Bill Wadely aka 'Vili the Kid)' said…
Fact is: the Forum needs Fiji, more than Fiji needs to Forum.

In the light of a new and more inclusive regional architecture being promoted by Fiji, the Forum can now be considered .."a wart on the arse of history" (with apologies to Jim Anthony)
Ratu Gandi said…
Listen to the chin dribblers. The bitter old mongoose fools are out on the loose tonight.
Vili the Kid (Bill Wadely) said…
@ Ratu Ghandu

Waden is not a 'chin dribbler' etc. He has articulated his position quite clearly.

If name calling is the best you can do, then please stay away.
Anonymous said…
A 'small' wart, Bill.
Anonymous said…
Oh yes, Bill, 'quite clearly'--so clearly in fact that in circles where foreign policy and diplomacy are seriously discussed by the well informed, Wadan Narsey has clearly shown how shallow and simplistic he is. More and more, Wadan sounds like his brother-in-law, Brij Lal--full of sound and fury signifying not very much.
Anonymous said…
Warden ANZ see themselves as cousins they both think of the other Pacific countries as backwards! All that is played in front of the TV is for the local audience in ANZ. Ratu Mara was also known to have the same line of thoughts as Bainimarama so nothing new. Our relatives in the Pacific are already bought & sold to either Australia or NZ- their Leaders will do what ever the leaders of ANZ demands! The Forum cannot exist in its current form its as simple as that , the days for dealing with Fiji and other South Pacific countries by ANZ has too be re-looked.Look how our people use to get treated waiting to get a visa at the Aussie High Commission in Tamavua yeh thats our neighbours Warden yet their relatives from UK are the largest numbers of overstayers???
Warden just needs to move on like it or lump it Frank is here to stay!
Tuisese said…
Its a pity that Warden's writing are now just conceded by some to be just that - a reading paper! Give it up Warden its eating you up get on with life -no ones going back -it happens all over the world eg Germany is now back screwing the EU countries that bombed the shit out of her during the Wars no one really cares.

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