1. Bainimarama and McCully: the Way Backwards


 Opinion -- Crosbie Walsh

We know Bainimarama is no diplomat.  He calls it as he sees it, and the devil take the consequences.  Sometimes this is refreshing. It's not often a country's leader speaks so openly. But most times it is not the best way to speak to -- or about -- other governments if you want to defrost relations, and find a way forward.


 Now Bainimarama has a twin, Murray McCully, who cannot be excused, as some would say Bainimarama can, for his lack of lèse majesté. McCully is not a military man. He is an experienced senior politician, Godzone's foreign minister, a diplomat who should know better than to say what he feels -- even when his bigger Australian brother, Stephen Smith, sets a poor example and says almost the same thing.

Speaking immediately after the Forum's Ministerial Contact Group meeting "broke up" in Auckland on Monday afternoon,  McCully reported no progress on Fiji. He said the situation had deteriorated on human rights, censorship, arrests, no preparations for the 2014 elections, etc., and, most importantly, dialogue to date had not included all "stakeholders," by which he meant the former political parties and former parliamentary leaders such as Qarase and Chaudhry. If only he had chosen his words more carefully and said "there appears not to have been as much progress as we would have liked" and omitted the reference to the stakeholders.

Until that point in time the Fiji government had invited the MCG to visit Fiji to see things on the ground, and the MCG had accepted. Unfortunately, this slight glimmer of hope that some progress had been made at the meeting was about to be extinguished. And anyone who knows even the tiniest thing about Fiji or Bainimarama could have seen it coming.

McCully's remarks may have been acceptable if confined to a NZ public to explain the lack of progress. But there's no way, in this electronic age, that public remarks can be confined. He must have known his remarks would also reach Fiji. From this point on, the outcome was entirely predicable. Bainimarama took offence at the "deterioration" remarks. And I must say I have some sympathy with his position. Much progress has been made, but not with consulting NZ's stakeholders.

Why come to Fiji, Bainimarama asked, when they (the Australian and NZ Ministers) already have their minds made up?  Pacific Islanders leaders, he said, will meet without you under the Melanesian Spearhead Group umbrella later this month. Forget your pretended open-mind visit to Fiji.  The invitation is withdrawn.

Relations may improve as time goes by, but for the moment it looks like another lost opportunity.

This leaves me wondering if NZ really wanted dialogue with Fiji.  McCully is no fool. Why were his remarks so negative and poorly chosen?  Could it be that the MCG meeting in Auckland was only a face-saving tactic to appease those Pacific Island leaders who do not agree with Australia and New Zealand's hard line? Or could it be there's an expectation that, given time, the Bainimarama government will collapse or be replaced, and the Pacific will ease back to the kind of cosy relations we once had with our Island neighbours? Dream on.

On Friday, I'll make some suggestions on what McCully (and Forum leaders who agree with his position) can reasonable expect as "concessions" from Fiji -- and what they can not. And on Monday,  I'll write about possible New Zealand "concessions."  It takes two to tango.

Postscript. The PM has told the Acting Heads of the NZ and Australian missions in Suva to get out of their offices and see what's going on around them.The PM said he is concerned that misleading information is being fed by the officials of the two High Commissions to their governments. "The problem also with some of the officials is that they are speaking to a group of people who always oppose or see wrong in everything the government does."

Comments

Backwards indeed said…
It's the end of any prospect of "engagement" and you're right, Croz, it makes you wonder if they had any intention to follow through. But the reason Frank can afford to be so belligerent in his comments is that this may actually strengthen his hand. Now, he can cast himself as the wronged underdog at the "MSG and others" summit. He'll doubtless claim that Australia and NZ aren't genuine in even trying to understand Fiji's problems, are using the Pacific Forum to manipulate and impose their will on island states and the MSG is the only real body that is free of that manipulation. You can actually see a strategic pattern developing here of Fiji deliberately freeing itself of having to deal at all with the Aussies and Kiwis. I see Peter Thomson, the new permanent rep at the UN, is working hard to establish diplomatic ties with anyone at all who is interested. I wondered why this was happening until I saw his comments today that Fiji intends to join the Non Aligned Movement. This would take it right out of the western alliance and the Australia/NZ orbit and strengthen its ties with people like the Chinese and the Russians, who had a top level delegation in Suva last week. All this should be extremely worrying for the Aussies and the Kiwis in a strategic sense, as is the news of Malaysian funding for improvements to the main roads on Viti Levu. But McCully and Smith are essentially stupid and their diplomats in Suva totally in the thrall of the "human rights and media freedom" lobby. A total disaster on every front but more so for the Aussies and Kiwis in a strategic sense.
Wake up call said…
Oi, Backward Indeed. Guess who the other Pacific members of the Non Aligned Movement are? Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, the two biggest luminaries in the MSG. So there's no doubt this is all part of a wider plan to extract Fiji from its traditional alignment with the US/Australia/NZ/EU, which has always underpinned our foreign policy to this point. Fiji has recently established diplomatic links with a range of countries like Cambodia, Burma and the United Arab Emirates. Lots of people wondered what was going on. But these are all members of the Non Aligned Movement so there's a strategic shift going on that Canberra and Wellington don't even seem to be across. I've also heard nothing from those useless "Pacific correspondents" about a policy shift that ought to be one of the biggest stories of the moment. Maybe they'll wake up next month when Frank basks in the sun with his Melanesian bra. Sure as hell the Aussies and the Kiwis will be doing all they can behind the scenes right now to make sure none of the "others" turn up in Suva. If they do in any numbers, It could be curtains for the Forum.
Aligned with the non-aligned said…
Hey, guess who'll be really pleased that Fiji joins the Non Aligned Movement? It's founding member, India. Remember, it was Nehru who was the prime force in getting it set up. With all the talk about Fiji's links with the Chinese, people tend to forget India's growing strength and eagerness to assist the Indian diaspora in Fiji. Things are getting very interesting, that's for sure. Doors close, others open. Not that the arrogant and ignorant Aussies and Kiwis would notice.
Global citizen said…
These quite idiotic people who comment here are lost in a world that does not exist. Why would NZ care if Fiji signed a deal with Russia? New Zealand is negotiating a free trade deal with Russia! That is how terrified we are! As for Malaysia - well, guess what? New Zealand has a free trade deal with Malaysia too. Has extensive and deep ties with Malaysia - so if Fiji wants them too, why would it amount to a "strategic shift". As for the Non Aligned Movement -- who on earth cares???!! Yes, Nehru helped establish it and India was to regret his decision for decades -- only now has India discovered super-powerdom by ditching the Non Aligned Movement and going West.
And a final piece of advice for the braindead correspondents here; guess who owns most of the businesses in Fiji that actually make money. think hard. they are not from the Soviet Union, or Red China, or the People's Republic of Albania. No, the profitable side of Fiji is largely owned by Australia - and nothing changes. They just get the stupid Chinese or Malaysian taxpayers to build roads for the cheap arsed Fijians.
Can't fly, can't lecture said…
Global citizen, you really are an arrogant Kiwi, not a real citizen of the world. What you've displayed here are all the things we detest most about the Kiwis and the Aussies. Foremost among these is the idea that your economic clout gives you the right to lord it over us. Those days are gone and you're going to find out the hard way what it means to lose control of your own backyard. You lick the arses of the Americans, the Chinese and everyone bigger than you. But guess what buster. We're not going to lick yours.
Who's the real cheap arse? said…
You really are blind to reality, Global Citizen. Look at the way the Aussies and Kiwis now have to bow and scrape to the Chinese? They lecture Fiji about democracy and human rights while kow towing to the biggest human rights violator in the region. Why? For their money. You talk about cheap arsed Fijians. At least we don't sacrifice our principles for the almighty buck like you cheap arsed whores.
Anonymous said…
You may have overlooked - even forgotten us - but rest assured we haven't you.
Loloma. Momo Sami.

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