The MSG Summit: Reflections and Implications
When the raging rhino shoves aside Australia and NZ Zealand to woo China and its own Melanesian brothers
Thakur Ranjit Singh
As the aroma of the authentic Fijian lovo (hangi) pig and the sumptuous spicy chicken curry cooked in Indo-Fijian style drifted from the lavishly laid buffet table, the tang of delicious Fijian kokoda (raw fish in coconut milk and lemon) simultaneously hit the olfactory nerves. This made it difficult for the Pacific delegates to choose what to eat. However, there was no such dilemma when it came to show support for Fiji and Bainimarama’s path for the nation.
The Vale Ni Bose (Great Council of Chiefs) complex in Nasese, Suva, that was earmarked to be the extravagant headquarters of the now-disbanded Great Council of Chiefs served as an appropriate venue for the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Summit in Suva, Fiji on 30 and 31 March, 2011. When the dust settled down at the meeting complex, it would herald as another slap on the blinkered vision that Australia and New Zealand hold of Fiji. Not that they were not warned. Some four years ago, the warning signals were given; the bigger brothers were urged to show better appreciation and understanding for the complex island issues.
In a NZ Herald opinion piece on 9 January, 2007, I had pleaded the sanctions imposed against the people of Fiji and affecting common people made little sense. New Zealand’s support for a questionable, immoral, blatantly racist, unethical and a corrupt Qarase’s ‘democracy’, while ideologically correct, delivered little to common people on the ground. The poor people of Fiji would become poorer with the double standards of New Zealand's leadership which, while throwing open red carpets for undemocratic strong leaders were punishing a weaker and a smaller traditional ally. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/democracy/news/article.cfm?c_id=171&objectid=10418204
While there have been calls for election in Fiji, the first world leaders need to realise that mere elections did not deliver democracy, not in Fiji. For example, what would the Commonwealth, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island Forum do if an election sent back the same culprits who were raping democracy under the sanctity of supposedly democratic elections, and continued milking the country under the sham of democracy and disinheriting almost half its population under the slogan of indigenous superiority and ethno-nationalism. Perhaps it was time Fiji was allowed to sort out and find a home grown and compromising solution to its complex political problems. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=117149
It is such home-grown solutions to the Pacific problems that have been the priority for the MSG. It appears that is where the difference between the first world Australia and New Zealand and the third world MSG members cropped up. It is not upon the developed neighbours to act as the policemen for the apparently failing systems bequeathed by the European colonisers to these Pacific countries: Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji, among others.
This issue came into prominence when Fiji was sidelined by MSG last year and subsequently Natadola Engaging meeting was held in Fiji. That small gathering culminated in this fully-fledged March 2011 MSG meeting at Nasese Suva where Bainimarama called for a reality check, urging them to stay united in support of each other. This message of friendship was reiterated by Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister Don Poyle who led the PNG delegation to the MSG. What was noticeable in the brotherhood get-together was the unanimous decision not to be moved astray by Australia or New Zealand. The solidarity in the MSG brotherhood was very evident, almost tangible. Solomon Islands foreign affairs minister Peter Shanel, Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman and New Caledonia representative Charles Wachetin, among others, all supported and agreed with the home-grown path to resolve the political instability in Fiji.
The seed of the embryonic ‘Engaging with Fiji’ Conference, ‘watered’ at Natadola in 2010 subsequent to Fiji’s rebuff by Vanuatu in response to the reported carrot-dangling of Australia and New Zealand, was destined to grow big. Grow big it did in Fiji last month into a strong tree, the MSG which now threatens the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) as a more Pacific- representative, Pacific-oriented and Pacific - sensitive body, sans ‘interfering’ Australia and New Zealand.
Graham Davies, a Fiji-born journalist and commentator saw this support for Bainimarama as another coup by (Bainimarama) acquiring the leadership of “an alternative grouping that’s certainly much more representative of the Pacific’s biggest players and biggest populations – the nearly seven million people in PNG and 850,000 in Fiji.” http://www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/articles/regime-leader-bainimarama-wins-last-laugh-over-canberra-pacific-politics
Davies has also been critical of Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s reluctance in discussing any thaw or change in the policy towards Fiji. He reported that former Australian diplomat, Jenny Hayward-Jones reflected that it was ironical that while some of its strategic defence planners were urging Australia to arm itself with US nuclear submarines to counter a perceived Chinese threat, “Canberra should be so cavalier about its relationship with a budding Chinese satellite like Fiji.”
Alex Perrottet, contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch continued the critique of Rudd’s Australian policy by echoing what other commentators on Fiji (including this author) have told Australia and New Zealand - that they have been kicking a small country like Fiji in the teeth for being “undemocratic” while sleeping with bigger undemocratic, even communist, but economically-advantageous and stronger trading partners. http://www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/pacific-media-watch/2011-03-29/fiji-mccully-leads-rudd-treatment-pariah-regime
Perrottet was critical that despite three invitations from Bainimarama to visit Fiji and observe the developments, Rudd had no time to visit an undemocratic Fiji while he named many less than democratic countries that Rudd had visited, including Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Brazil, Chile, Bali, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, China, South Korea, among others. While Australia and Rudd had already made up their mind on Fiji, it appears New Zealand was thawing its hard policy, but with a carrot-dangling that has become the norm of the big brothers. The carrot meant that Fiji should come up with some firm commitments for the election in 2014 before Bainimarama and the rugby-loving regime’s big guns would be allowed into New Zealand where Fiji plays in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) in October/November, 2011
Not all Fijians were happy with this stance. Some saw it as paternalistic attitude of New Zealand towards Fiji that smacked of neo-colonialism. Others view McCully’s RWC carrot indicative of the low regard with which he and his government considered Fiji.
Irrespective of who said what, the fact remains that the raging rhino that started its rush over four years ago has not slowed down, and does not appear to be doing so either, despite so many distractions from its two larger developed neighbours, who now have been pushed aside. Fiji now appears to be more at home in its comfort zone with its Melanesian brothers. In addition, it has started courting some countries that Fiji’s erstwhile friends may not regard with approval. In such a situation Fiji can hardly be blamed for befriending countries up north and elsewhere.
As has been reminded on numerous occasions, Rudd and McCully and Gillard and Key respectively can continue to ignore Fiji at their peril, and to the advantage of China. They should have learnt by now that the raging rhino does not care who or what stands in its way.
It has been rushing on.........unstoppable since 2006!
[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator with a close knowledge on Fiji issues.]