Forum Fizzle, Fizzle ... Pop

Not only the date  wrong

Many people expected some positive move by the Pacific Islands Forum about Fiji. Perhaps not the total lifting of the country's suspension, but something. The signs were all there. At the "Engaging the Pacific" meeting in Nadi the week before, most countries present favoured Fiji's  return.  Full support had already been expressed by Kiribati and Nauru, there was conditional support from all the Melanesian countries, and a sixty-strong US delegation headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, like the US Cavalry in the old cowboy and Indian films, was on its way to the rescue.  Some thought she would tell Australia and New Zealand that their strategy on Fiji was helping China increase its already substantial influence in the Pacific. As it turned out the two superpowers patted each other on the back for the sake of the gallery.

But  John "Wayne" Key had already made New Zealand's position clear. While earlier he'd talked about "progress" towards elections, now he nudged the goalposts further away  and said there would be no change until elections were held and the military returned to the Barracks.  Interestingly, he made this one-country statement as if speaking for the Forum before it had even discussed Fiji. The Australian PM, with her popularity plummeting ahead of the Federal Elections, committed Australia to $390 million over the next ten years to promote Pacific women, and then returned home to mourn the death of five soldiers killed in Afghanistan.  When  Mrs Clinton finally arrived, she said next to nothing on Fiji and fielded reporter's questions on Afghanistan. The Pacific leaders, who were not reported as saying anything very much,  need not have been there.  Publicly, they went along with the Australian and New Zealand position  but from their earlier remarks only Samoa, the Cooks and Niue were totally happy with the decision.

The importance of the Australia-New Zealand position was highlighted by the European Union delegate who said the EU would continue to follow the Australian and New Zealand lead on Fiji, and the EU's  $360 million targeted to assist the sugar industry, on which 100,000 people depend for a living, would continue to be withheld until they gave the signal.  This is ironic.  Both countries said they had not placed trade bans on Fiji because bans would adversely affect ordinary people, and yet their present stand has precisely this effect.     The Forum also had nothing to say on West Papua despite ever increasing evidence of very serious  human rights violations by the Indonesian military.  Another military, another irony?

PNG offered some way out by offering to support Fiji  at the ACP (Asia Caribbean Pacific) meeting in Port Moresby in December, and in the meantime Australia and New Zealand said they would not stand in the way of Fiji being invited to attend "parallel" Pacific meetings, but not the Forum that seems to stand as some sort of symbolic sign of their adherence to "democratic" principles.

We do not know what weight they gave to a submission from Fiji's old political parties that essentially wanted everything to return to how it was before the 2006 coup, but if they go along this road, or indeed offer any support for this position, they will be helping to derail the constitution dialogue process and put an election in 2014 even more in doubt than John Key thinks possible.  The old parties say the process is fundamentally flawed and they clearly have no intention of cooperating with the  Constitution Commission whose  chairman Prof Yash Ghai shares some of their concerns about the process but, unlike them, thinks the process is well on track and is satisfied people with views opposed to the Government are coming forward to freely express their opinions.

Australia and New Zealand should be offering every support they can to the Dialogue process. If they lead the Forum to go along with the old parties, they will be supporting a system far less democratic than the one envisaged in the People's Charter and in the Government's non-negotiable principles. They will also be supporting increased instability in Fiji with unpredictable outcomes.

Meanwhile, they should be aware that their mana as Pacific power brokers is being threatened. Others will step in to help Fiji.

 Last week the Japanese offered to help Fiji's election process; Fiji established diplomatic relations with Iran and signed a memorandum of understanding with North Korea, and in the United Arab Republic, Fiji opened its new embassy.  This is all part of its Look North diplomacy and engagement with the Non-Aligned Movement countries. It is now a long way away from its former semi-dependence of Australia and New Zealand. China has pumped $650 million into the Pacific over the past year.  The Melanesian Spearhead Group has been revitalised and Bainimarma is its current chairman.

A Forum, dominated by Australia and New Zealand, is no  longer representative of Pacific opinion, even if it ever was. Samoa, Niue and the Cooks whose economies would collapse without their aid, will continue to go along with what they want. The position of other Forum countries is more fluid. Fiji's geographic location and relatively advanced infrastructure make Fiji far more important to the Forum than the Forum is to it. They couldn't even relocate their headquarters to Samoa!

I laughed when I read Forum members were feted on One Foot Island in Aitutaki.  If  John Key  thinks the Forum will be all that relevant to Fiji by the time it holds elections in 2014, he should try pulling the other one.  But by then he is likely to have stood down from parliament and Gillard will be in the back benches.  They will not have left a Pacific legacy about which we can be proud.

Related articles.
 Grubsheet 
 Pacific Scoop
36th Parallel

Comments

Anonymous said…
Why is it 'ironic' that the two powers AUS and NZ, have not placed trade bans, (bans i perosnally agree with)where the EU has? If the EU decided on a punitive measure tro pressure the regime, then that is a matter for them. I don't recall Aus or NZ asking the EU to do this.
Anonymous said…
Good you should make comment on West Papua, I note that Fiji wasn't inclined to utter a single word of concern about their melanesian brothers traetment either? I can only imagine they are waiting for their new friends China, Iran and North Korea to take the lead in standing up for human rights in the region. You seem to imply that Aus and NZ have ignored the human rights abuses as they have a vested interest in relations with Indonesia and their military, so why was fiji silent when it has no relationship at all?
Desmond said…
Lets see if Fiji ever takes a principled stand on Tibet or human rights issues in China and see what happens to their aid ...
Desperate for recognition said…
It would appear Baininmarama is becoming increasingly depsperate for recognition? If the best he can do is the Islamic Republic of Iran and North Korea then he has a lot of work to do. As in Iran and North Korea the plight of the economy and the terrible repression is a result of dictatorships and unelected regimes. Anyone who thinks Fiji is going forward under this current junta is deceiving themselves.
And speaking of fizzes, the only one recently to outdo the total fizz of the NAM in Tehran was the recent MSG meeting - hot air, rhetoric, confusion and no outcomes of relevance. Nothing but a good laugh!
Cotonou said…
Just to clarify an issue here: The EU cannot release the 200 million Euro in sugar aid without violating their own treaties and agreements. The Cotonou Agreement clearly states that a dictatorship cannot be financed.
flyhalf said…

@Desperate

I assume you consider a NAM as backward organization. Far from it, it is the largest group of nations outside the UN.

@ Cotonou The EU cannot release 200 million in Sugar Aid because they used it in bailing out Greece. Stay tuned for Sept 12th German Constitutional Court ruling on European Central Bank bailouts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18855898
Anonymous said…
@flyhalf... the NAM acheives excatly what apart from giving Zimbabwe, Iran and Fiji a forum to complain about how 'misunderstood they are' in front of the worls most backward and repressive regimes. What eactly do they stand for? The countries in the NAM may as well join the 'G187' I would say it has less relevance, backbone and teeth than the Commonwealth.
flyhalf said…
@anon Tuesday, September 4, 2012 12:01:00 PM GMT+12:00

Check your typos and your reasoning.
Anonymous said…
@flyhalf..are we given marks on that as well? Perhaps you could create a blog for the great unwashed of Fiji and provide pompous and petulant advice on their spelling. That seems to be the tone coming from some commentators regarding submissions to the commission. If you agree with the military regime in your submission it's one through to the goal, but heaven help anyone who doesn't, as people like yourself pick through it blaming their ignorance and a 'shadowy hand' guiding their opinions. My reasoning is that Fiji is still a pariah and no decent person wants to work for them or country be seen dealing with them. I am perfectly thrilled with that.Fiji still remains a basketcase and joke in the region and understandably likened to a banana republic and for every laughable comment from the regime claiming to be champions of truth, honesty and fair and equal treatment for all, their own actions are there for all to witness every day.
Desmond said…
@Anon 11:57 I am with you. We don't come on this blog to be lectured by others on our typo's. These are the same people who feel Fijian governance is too precious to be in the hands of 'ordinary ignorant people', so there preference appears to be a military junta with no accountability who send their police to youth meetings to record events and keep their foot on the throat of any dissent? but all will be wel in their 'new constitution' which forgives them everything, lets them keep their spoils, and then demands different standards of everyone else who comes after.
Talei Dredre said…
Hey you guys focus - forget the spelling - the purpose of communication is to be understood and you guys obviously understand each other's condemnation and vernominous utterances. The punch of this article is in the final 3 sentences.
The unsaid bit however is that not only is the Forum going to be irrelevant to Fiji by 2014 - it's going to be irrelevant to the Pacific SIDS, AOSIS, the UN and the World. Even now, it is like a big dinossaur in the room which is filling up precious space and is incapable of intellectually partnering with anyone for reproductive purpose because its organs are either defunct or too outdated for cross-pollination undertakings. Compared to its immediate counterpart, the SPC, PIF is a drain on Pacific time, energy and resources. One look at the 43rd PIF Communique is enough to see what a talkfest it was. Nothing new - not even any acknowledgement of the presence of the Private Sector or Civil Society. It's time for PIF to shape up or ship out. The next generation of true Pasifika People need fresh air and a fresh outlook.

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