Friday, July 23, 2010

Diplomacy Not Dictator Bainimarama's Strength

Author: Satish Chand, UNSW@ADFA
July 22nd, 2010

The Australian acting high commissioner to Fiji was declared ‘person non grata’ and ordered to leave the country within 24 hours by the Fiji government on July 13.

This is the second Australian diplomat of a total of three that have been sent packing by the Bainimarama regime since taking office via a military coup in December 2006. Each expulsion by Fiji followed allegations of interference of the diplomats in the domestic political affairs of the nation. Australia retaliated last time in kind but has refrained this time. On Australia’s part, this is sensible. But if allegations are true that Australia was campaigning against Fiji holding the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting in Nadi this month where Prime Minister Bainimarama was to have taken chairmanship of a group comprising Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, then this campaign defies common sense.

I am no diplomat. And diplomacy is not my strength. So let me be blunt here. Fiji holding the MSG and Prime Minister Bainimarama rising to chair this grouping of nations would have been good for Fiji and for the region. Bainimarama would have had the opportunity to learn international diplomacy and display his skills in regional politics. This would have enriched him as a leader. His counterparts – prime ministers Natapei, Somare and Sikua – would have had the time and the opportunity to talk to him as their representative. Together, they would have had the opportunity to get Fiji back into the Pacific Islands Forum. In addition, Australia and New Zealand would have had the opportunity to step back and let the other island leaders take up the responsibility of helping Fiji back into the Pacific Islands Forum.

The opportunity to engage with Bainimarama personally and Fiji more generally has not disappeared yet. Thanks to Bainimarama for pursuing his plans to hold a ‘Friends of Fiji’ meeting on July 22 and 23 with a view to ‘Reengaging Fiji,’ there remains hope. The prime ministers of PNG and the Solomon Islands have agreed to participate. New Zealand has declined the invitation, while other island leaders are yet to respond. If successful in reengaging Fiji, this could be the first step toward helping the Bainimarama regime to be rescued from becoming the pariah state of the Pacific. And the least Australia and New Zealand could do is to keep their hands off this process. New Zealand has signalled its wish not to interfere, while Australia remains quiet.

The 13 leaders of the Pacific Island states, together with their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand, are to meet in Port Vila early next month to hold the 41st Pacific Islands Forum. While the Fijian leader will remain locked out of this get together, the leaders of PNG and Solomon Islands may have some clear messages from their Fijian counterpart to reengage Fiji. It would be wise for the leaders at the forum to listen to these thoughts.

Satish Chand is a professor in the School of Business, the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

Comments posted on
  • Satish Chand must learn that there is no point in sitting down and talking to criminals about the affairs of a state.Vanuatu was right in bringing in the question of Chairmanship because only elected lleaders have been Chairman of the PIG.It would have been a travesty if Fiji's illegal PM would have been allowed to Chair the meeting. Vanuatu in rejecting Bainimarama's Chairmanship of MSG sends a very clear message to the coup ridden govt of Fiji9 anbd that is you are illegal, invoted for and will nor take part in the MSG meeting. Australia and NZ have nothing to do with Vanuatu's decision to postpone the meeting and Vanuatu was only doing what is right and just for the integrity of MSG. Bainimarama on the other hand has no integrity at all in Fiji or outside of Fiji.

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