Australia, Fiji & China? What After the Military? Tuilaepa's Tsunami Dollars?
Australia Driving Fiji into China's Arms
by Richard Herr*
Canberra should lose no time in repairing relations with Suva.
Fiji celebrated the 40th anniversary of its independence from Britain last week. Sitting under the protection of a pavilion, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, ministers and the diplomatic corps were untroubled by the teeming rain that soaked the parading troops and schoolchildren who provided the spectacle for the occasion.
But not all the storm clouds were over Suva's Albert Park that day. Australia's high commissioner was missing from the diplomatic reserved seats, a casualty of tit-for-tat expulsions in the course of the troubled relationship between Canberra and Suva since the December 2006 military coup.
Adding an edge to Australia's diplomatic absence, for those who read the commemorative program, was the logo of the embassy of the People's Republic of China. It was the only state listed as an official sponsor.
The entire planet is making some adjustment to China's emergence as a rising global power. But Australia's four-year attempt to isolate and penalise the government of Bainimarama has pushed Fiji more quickly and fully into Beijing's arms. Arms has a double meaning here; Fiji's President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has just returned from a state visit to China, where he visited a major arms manufacturing plant.The military sanctions imposed on Fiji by its traditional friends (Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the US) have left Fiji's military with few options for resupply or modernisation. Speculation is rife in Suva that Fiji will soon decide to procure Chinese sourced armaments. This would likely be a long-term commitment to the Chinese supply chain.
The Bainimarama government also has a significant military personnel training offer from China. There's every chance that a substantial commitment could soon be made to a five-year cadet officer training program that would at least equal the pre-2006 levels for Australia, New Zealand and Britain combined.
These developments are a direct result of some of the ill-advised sanctions against Fiji, rather than any efforts by China to discredit Fiji's ties with Australia. The affection that built up over the years between Australian officers and Fiji's military has been lost.
Senior Fiji officers regret that the brothers-in-arms status that they once enjoyed with their Australian counterparts isn't available and won't be offered to their junior officers.
Our closest Western allies in the region, the US and France, haven't gone as far down the military sanctions path as has Australia and have maintained routine contact with Fiji's armed forces.
Our leading Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, have undermined travel sanctions by allowing all personnel banned by Australia to travel abroad via their countries. In the process, they have reinforced Fiji's "look north" policy to cultivate new partners to offset the estrangement from its traditional friends.
At a recent meeting at the UN with Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Hillary Clinton, recognised the 2014 date for elections in Fiji is unlikely to change.The US Secretary of State offered to assist Fiji in returning to parliamentary democracy by that date.
Despite its doubts, Australia shouldn't wait until 2014 to test the sincerity of Fiji's commitment to elections. That would only make Bainimarama's government feel it has succeeded despite Australia, and not because of Fiji's relationship with an old friend.
Last week's national day celebrations in Suva may have heralded a new focus for Fiji's independence, not from Britain but from Australia.If this trend is to be reversed, both sides should talk urgently.
* Richard Herr is the author of 'Time for a Fresh Approach: Australia and Fiji Relations Post-abrogation', Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Anthony Bergin is the research director at ASPI. These are their personal views.
What After the Military?
Scott MacWilliam's comment on the post
"The Times They Are A Changin'":
The possibility that a military regime may be the precursor to a liberal democratic government is not as exceptional as some may think. Consider the history of England after Cromwell, France after Bonaparte, the USA after the military victory of the north over the south in the civil war, Germany after Bismarck and then again after the Allied Occupation in 1945, Japan after the Allied Occupation also at the end of WWII, South Korea during the Third, Fourth and Fifth Republics-the list goes on including more recently into Africa and Latin America.In many liberal democratic countries, the military's presence is invariably just beneath the surface, used to quell strikes, demonstrations, etc.
Nothing is predetermined in the relationship between military and civilian rule, despite what those who are romantically inclined care to think. Fiji will be the same, which is why what steps are taken over the next few years to secure a transition to a more substantial democratic civilian government are so important.
TUILAEPA QUESTIONED. The Samoan Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister can call me what they like, they can imply Claudine Maclean and I are cynical and ignorant palagi, but shooting the messenger does not alter the fact that neither the government's own figures, nor what I saw and heard on the coast, go anywhere near towards answering the simple question we came to Samoa to ask: where has the money gone? -- NZ journalist Campbell Live on the unaccounted for WST$100,000,000 given for tsunami relief. Samoa Observer, Oct. 6, 2010. [Which raises questions about Tuilaepa's finger-pointing at Fiji.]
WHY THE CRIME RATE IS RISING BUT FALLING.Jone Kalouniviti comments on the changing nature of crime. and indirectly on how statistics can be misleading if like is not compared with like.