Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Proposed Fiji diplomatic appointment to New Zealand “a provocation”


Commodore Frank Bainimarama with Neumi Leweni Fiji’s administration has announced plans to appoint its military spokesman, Lt Col Neumi Leweni, as a diplomat to its High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand.

This goes against an apparent thawing in the diplomatic relationship between the two countries, with a meeting between both foreign ministers agreeing to increase the number of diplomats.

Professor Steve Hoadley from the History Department at Auckland University says it's likely the move will be seen by New Zealand as an insult.

Radio Australia’s presenter Bruce Hill speaks with Professor Steve Hoadley, History Department, Auckland University

HOADLEY: In so far as Lieutenant Colonel Leweni is a spokesperson for the regime, has been robust in his defence of Commodore Bainimarama's delaying of the democratic process, it does seem a little bit provocative in so far as New Zealand has said they would accept a counsellor from Fiji in good faith. One wouldn't anticipate a counsellor so identified with regime that New Zealand so disapproves to be sent. I'm sure that Murray McCully will be taken a little bit back that his gesture of goodwill to Fiji has met with such a provocative response.

HILL: What's the usual protocol with these sort of diplomatic appointments? I thought that both countries mutually agreed on these positions before any announcement was made?

HOADLEY: That's my understanding this announcement I don't believe is official, certainly not from a New Zealand point of view. The name would be submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister's office and vetted and some sort of expression of approval would go back before any official statement would be made. So all this emergence of Colonel Leweni's name in the public arena is premature, it really is outside of the normal diplomatic protocol and it must be a little bit embarrassing to the New Zealand government to have to deal with the fact that this name is already in the public domain long before any approval was given and indeed it could well be that approval will not be given to this particular individual.

HILL: Why do you think such a controversial person, this Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni would be put forward by the Fiji government in the first place? What were they trying to achieve by this?

HOADLEY: We see the hand of Commodore Bainimarama behind this, he has gone out of his way to be insulting to the New Zealand government and also to the Australian government by the summary expulsion first of several of their journalists and then their respective high commissioners. So this is just another in a sense snub, act of defiance by the Commodore saying we will appoint who we want, we will not worry about your sensitivities, New Zealand, and it could well be that if Australia follows the New Zealand example and offers some sort of conciliatory gesture that a similar appointment, provocative appointment might be recommended to Canberra, Canberra would be in the same position as Murray McCully is now, puzzling over whether to accept this individual or to toss it back to the commodore who will then no doubt make it public and then accuse the New Zealand government of bad faith and unwillingness to compromise. So in a sense the commodore is trying to provoke a fight. He may in the eyes of those who support his regime appear to be resolute, strong and defiant in Fiji's interests, but I think objective observers will see him as being in fact somewhat shallow, somewhat unwilling to take advantage of this opportunity in Fiji's wider interests.

HILL: So in effect what you're saying is that if New Zealand accepts this appointment New Zealand looks weak and embarrassed and if it rejects it Commodore Bainimarama can say look, New Zealand's not playing ball?

HOADLEY: I think that's a good summing up, it does present a dilemma to Murray McCully and to the New Zealand cabinet who probably had discussed this whole gesture to Fiji. So it's a lose, lose situation I think for both New Zealand and for Fiji, we'll just have to wait and see if Fiji, the Commodore in particular will withdraw the nomination, which will certainly be the recommendation from Wellington. But if he doesn't withdraw it, insists on it, goes public and goes to the press for example and insists on this particular individual, well then there's the diplomatic stand-off. I don't think we're going to see counsellors from the two countries in each other's capitals then in the near future. There will be in fact a stalemate


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