#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Softly, softly when dealing with pariah

Friday, January 15, 2010

Softly, softly when dealing with pariah

There is more than a hint of Barack Obama in this country's attempt to rebuild its diplomatic relations with Fiji. The American President's foreign policy is based around diplomacy and dialogue.

Doubtless, his Administration would have been cheered by discussions in Suva last weekend between Foreign Minister Murray McCully and his military-appointed Fijian counterpart that led to each appointing a "counsellor" and deputy head of mission. In principle, this opening of communications is to be applauded.

There needs, however, to be a few caveats, given the nature of the military regime headed by Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Mr McCully has tried to establish these. He insists there has been no change in policy towards the regime. He also says the Government is not reconsidering sanctions against regime leaders, the military and their families entering New Zealand.

What is being signalled, he says, is "a determination to improve the relationship and, in particular, to be able to agree to disagree about some things".

This needs to be constantly restated, and New Zealand must reiterate its concerns as long as the situation in Fiji remains unchanged.

If not, Commodore Bainimarama is quite willing to manipulate such an olive branch to his own ends. Already, he has told an Indian radio station in Auckland that "this is very significant for the Government and people of Fiji. For us ... it is about recognition". New Zealand's decision, he suggested, meant Fiji was seen as a sovereign nation charting its own path.

Based on Mr McCully's statement, it means nothing of the sort. But Commodore Bainimarama is ready to seize on such contact to promote himself and his wretched methods to the Fijian people.

That should not surprise the Key Government. When it came to power, it was clearly prepared to adopt a different approach to Fiji. Commodore Bainimarama, however, seemed deaf to the potential. Soon, he was threatening to expel New Zealand's high commissioner over a refusal to renew a study visa for an official's son.

The threat was carried out, and the regime has been all too ready to expel other New Zealand and Australian senior diplomats.

Mr McCully's approach may owe something to a belief that the sanctions imposed by the previous Government are not working. But Commodore Bainimarama is obviously irritated by the travel ban.

In his radio interview, he pointed to the sanctions while suggesting the New Zealand approach was very confusing. "The whole idea behind it is to move toward understanding of what we want to do and needs to be done, and that means lifting sanctions."

New Zealand's policy means nothing of the sort, of course. It has good cause to be annoyed at the commodore's response. But it should not be surprised. The regime has shown little inclination to engage meaningfully with the international community.

Despite protests, it has abrogated the constitution, squashed dissent, curbed free speech and dishonoured pledges for a return to democracy. This has led to pariah status and Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

Mr McCully talks of a process of "small steps". Given Commodore Bainimarama's record, that seems certain to be the case. A best-case scenario would see his regime persuaded to bring forward its election date of 2014. At worst, the dialogue with New Zealand will be hijacked to suggest a form of legitimacy.

That must not be allowed to happen. Sanctions must accompany diplomacy until Commodore Bainimarama shows a genuine commitment to return to the barracks- NZ Herald Editorial

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