Engaging with Fiji - Another Opportunity Lost: Dev Nadkarni

Despite the unchanging rigidity of their isolationist approach towards Fiji, the political leaderships in Australia and New Zealand would now have all but realised that trying to keep Fiji out of the South Pacific regional equation was never going to be a tenable strategy. 

This isolationist tack has come a complete cropper—it has achieved next to nothing. Suspension of bilateral ties, suspension from the Commonwealth, suspension from the Pacific Island Forum, travel bans, adverse travel advisories, besides all sorts of other measures have brought little change, if any, in Fiji.
Reams have been published on the lead up to the December 2006 military action, the regime and its style of functioning since then. And nearly all the ideas from politicians, academics and the media especially in New Zealand and Australia on dealing with the Fiji situation have centered on such isolationist strategies that have come up almost solely with punitive measures. 

It is as though engagement can never be an option. That sort of rigidity is hard to explain. Especially so, when the writing was clearly on the wall that the strategy wasn’t working and the situation could not be remedied with that tack. No matter what the situation within Fiji, there ought to have been more efforts from the ANZAC nations to engage with it these past years. 

Several windows of opportunity were lost, the latest one being last month.
With no recourse to any regional platform now that it has been suspended from the Pacific Island Forum, Fiji pushed hard for regional engagement through the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG)—the sub regional grouping of Melanesian countries that was to have been held in Fiji last month.

Fiji has alleged that the meet was scuttled by the ANZAC nations to predictable denials from both, as well as Vanuatu, which was supposed to have been prevailed upon not to attend the meet. The decidedly isolationist policy hitherto followed by Australia and New Zealand is what could well give credence to that allegation.  

With the MSG meet not happening, Fiji thought up another ploy at engagement and invited regional leaders to the “Engaging with the Pacific” meeting just about a week later. Though several leaders, ministers and government representative attended, Australia, New Zealand – and Samoa – did not. And that was a huge opportunity missed by the Anzac nations.

Among other things, the Fiji regime presented its updated roadmap to the proposed 2014 election. The presence of political leaders from Australia and New Zealand or at least their representatives—no matter how junior—would have been extremely useful in that they would then have had an all new handle to hold the regime to account in the months ahead leading up to the 2014 election and the achievements of the stated milestones.
By not sending representatives and refusing to engage even tentatively at the most tenuous of levels, Australia and New Zealand have chosen to persist with their one pronged, unimaginative isolationist tack of trying to force Fiji into a tight corner with no room to manoeuvre.  

Except that in this rapidly globalising world, there aren’t any corners anymore. If the traditional longstanding South has stonewalled it, a huge front from the rapidly growing, increasingly prosperous North has long opened up not only for Fiji but also for almost all other South Pacific nations. 

Chinese and Korean investment in Fiji has grown tremendously in the past few years and with every passing month the country is further building up its ties with Asian countries. The ANZAC nations know it only too well that the region’s future—including their own—is tied up with Asia. New Zealand is the first western nation to have signed a Free Trade Agreement with China, which is now not only poised to become its largest trading partner but also wants to buy big into its dairy sector.

Australia and New Zealand’s rigid stand notwithstanding there is no denying that Fiji is the hub of the Pacific and is too significant geopolitically for their simplistic, almost childish, isolationist non-strategy. Their persistence in following this tack beggars belief and exposes their leaderships’ paralysis in trying to come up with more sensitive, open minded and communicative approaches. 

The Melanesian brotherhood has realised this. And more than just the warm fraternal ‘wantok’ feeling, it is the hard and practical knowledge that they are sitting on a great deal of mineral wealth both inland and offshore that is at work here. 

The potential of that offshore wealth is poised to grow with the redrawing of the continental shelf boundaries following changes to the United Nations Law of the Sea in the coming years.  

The countries know that together they stand much to gain—and that explains why its leaders attended Fiji’s hurriedly called engagement gig with such alacrity. That message seems lost on the leadership of the ANZAC nations that has gone on record saying that there will be no change in their Fiji policy.

Fiji’s efforts to engage with the region despite being suspended from the Forum need to be actually seen as a positive step. The ANZAC nations need to set their hurt false pride aside and engage at whatever level—to begin with even informally, outside the ambit of recognised channels out of which Fiji has been excluded in any case.

Nothing can ever be achieved by non-engagement and isolationism especially in modern day geopolitics. Engagement and communication are key to diplomatic conflict resolution—particularly so when one of the parties sends all the right signals that it is game for it. 

The flawed assumption that any engagement with the present Fijian dispensation would be illegitimate needs to change because inaction based on such assumption will go nowhere and negate any possibility and hope of addressing the situation. 

The events that have taken place so far cannot be reversed and despite the ongoing controversial developments in Fiji, the regime has once again presented its plan for elections in 2014—which, according to media reports have been received positively by the leaders who attended the meet. 

Attending that meet would have been a great opportunity to restart dialogue and work with Fiji to work towards an outcome that is best for its people and for the region as a whole. 

Fiji should also realise that once it has made an undertaking or promise it must keep its end of the bargain. The writing on the wall is clear. Sticking to their isolationist strategy is not an option and staying rigid will undoubtedly have huge consequences for the geopolitics of the South Pacific region in the years to come. 

Reprinted from Islands Business.


Australia Incorporated said…
I fail to see how not attending the Natadola talkfest is an opportunity lost for Australia and NZ? The only people who seem concerned about it are coup supporters. As an Australain taxpayer I have no concern at all. None whatsoever.
The first thing that Dev needs to appreciate is that Fijians and the current junta are two separate things. Australia and Australians engage with Fijians on a daily basis - always will. We do this in Australia (I work and socialise with many in rugby and elsewhere) and we do this when we visit Fiji in great numbers for discounted and subsidised holidays. But we do not socialise or engage with the junta unless it is on our terms - not Bainimaramas. The junta has no impact on Australia if they choose to engage or not. It does not stop us having our cheap holidays in Fiji? It does not stop our billions of $ trade with China? It does not stop us getting our gas from East timor or PNG? It does not stop us having a trade surplus in our favour with Fiji? It does not stop increasing numbers of Fijians and indo Fijians pleading for residency?
I need some more convincing arguments. It seems to me the sanctions imposed on the junta are working well. And that provides incentives to increase them siginificantly - and this is what my Fijian friends tell me on a daily basis - and I agree with them. Where is the problem? None for Australia and NZ that I can see?
Jambalaya said…
@Aust Inc,
Those who fail to see, are really analogous to the three blind men story, feeling up the trunk of an elephant and thinking it is one thing, and the other two feeling a different part of the elephant emphatically declaring it something else.

As for requiring a more convincing argument, for Australia's decline in influence within the Pacific; need to get out of their ivory towers, because since the Pacific Island Forum was upstaged by Friends of Fiji Summit; all perceptions have underscored that dichotomy.
Confused said…
@ jambalya
Can you or Croz explain what you are trying to say in your last paragraph? It doesn't make sense and is very unclear?
Anonymous said…
@ Australia Incorporated...

No need to be so smug because the arguments and your personal satisfactions and misplaced sense of "having it all stitched up" are quite out-of-kilter. Fijians have every right and every reason to expect and to desire democracy and liberty for their own sake. But ....and here's the rub: they must be democracy and liberty in the truest sense. Australia and we must suppose Australia Incorporated have been happy to collude with terrorists in Fiji and all who played by the rules of terror.Do they also support terror newly-hatched in Northern Ireland? Would they support terror and a mutiny as staged in Fiji in 2000? Come clean on this. If not, your arguments are spurious and your sense of smug superiority ill-founded. Ms Julie Bishop appears to have found a new tack on things? May we be assured that this is permanent? Or will you all revert to type once the election is over and won?
sara'ssista said…
it is the regional pacific countries that are going off the reservation when it comes to normal democratic norms of behaviour. Australians have every right to be 'smug' as you put it. The democracy we inherited has been the strength of our system of checks and balances and we have never in the past two centuries even come close to it going off the rails as we remain true to the principles. The idea that somehow the coup culture in fiji and this current regime are part of 'fiji finding its pacific way' is a joke. Every country, every country in the region that has tried to bastardise the westminster system has failed or is failing then has the arrogance to claim 'it just doesn't fit our local ways' so we gonna 'improve on it'?? But apparently an organised military thoroughly based and trained on the british model has worked well?? Well it serves some anyway. Hasn't anyone considered those who lived under direct british rule throughout the commonwealth actually and they look back very kindly on those days for a reason. Australians are right to be disengaged from the pacific until they can at least agree on some minimum standards of governance and human rights an perhaps stop asking for handouts to fund every local project o their wish-list. Perhaps you could ask china with some funding for OH&S training or gender and equity issues for the military. see how far that gets you.
Anonymous said…
Is there anybody left in academia who still thinks the Fiji Regime is actually interested in dialogue?

If they were really interested in dialogue, they wouldn't have executed their coup for a start!

They are however, quite obviously interested in stage-managed charades, and media dog-and-pony shows. But they have clearly never been interested in anything other than the implementation 100% (and no less) of their own views on things.

They have maintained that stand through all opposition and reason. And they are still maintaining it even in the face of the fairly obvious failure of the majority of their policy initiatives!!

The idea of dialogue with that kind of pig-headedness is almost completely ridiculous, and I am gob-smacked that anyone seems to be seriously suggesting it.

Joe said…
What dialogue are you talking about Dev? There is no such thing, it is my way or the highway. Do you actually live in Fiji? Have you got the slightest clue of what is going on in Fiji? If "dialogue" was anywhere to be found in Frank's vocab, the OZ & NZ diplomats would not have been sent packing and Rusell Hunter would still be the editor of Fiji Sun, etc. Do yourself a favour Dev, dont write about stuff that you dont know about, we have enough of these in the Fiji Sun to put up with.
Jambalaya said…
@ Joe

Disparaging Dev's well researched article does not add an iota to your flimsy logic. Who cares if Dev does not live in Fiji, Aust. Foreign Minister does not live in Fiji either.

Dialogue was the intention for inviting ANZ, but this invitation was declined.

As for Russell Hunter, that issue was not mentioned in Dev's article and seems to be red herring.
Joe said…
You call that a well researched article? The writer is harping on the same old tune about the standoff between Fiji and Aus/NZ, something that is common knowledge even before the execution of the coup. "Another opportunity lost"????? What opportunity? To legitimise the coup?

You may or may not have noticed that the majority of posters on this blogsite were pro Frank, but as of late, it is quite the opposite, which in itself is an alarm bell for this govt.

Reference to Hunter and the expelled diplomats was made in the context of "dialogue" or absence of, in relation to the essence of Dev's "well researched article" as you say.
Jambalaya said…
@ Joe
Although, you say Dev's article was:
"Same old tunes about the stand off between Fiji and Aus/NZ"...

One can sanely debate, that you are also guilty singing from the old hymn book as well, including using a premise based on fallacious reasoning.

Popular posts from this blog

Lessons from Africa

Fijian Holdings Scandal: Betrayal by their trusted sons