From The Australian
In clear defiance of Australia and New Zealand, Commodore Bainimarama made the appeal to the Pacific leaders who have flown to his "Engaging with Fiji" meeting.
He said it was time to move beyond "the traditional spheres of influence dictated to by our colonial past by certain metropolitan powers".
Fiji, he announced, had recently decided to join the Non-Aligned Movement of more than 100 developing nations, which "will engender collaboration with countries that we have traditionally not had access to".
And the Arab League, he said, had invited the Pacific island countries to collaborate with it "in political issues and in the areas of investment and trade partnerships".
The leaders of Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu were present, and official representatives from Tonga, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Niue, as well as from East Timor, New Zealand territory Tokelau and French colony Wallis and Futuna.
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Michael Somare, arrived at the meeting yesterday afternoon after avoiding moves for a no-confidence vote until November 16.
"Today's meeting represents a significant diplomatic victory for Fiji," the state-owned Fiji Broadcasting Service proclaimed.
Commenting on the country's achievements since the coup in December 2006, Commodore Bainimarama said his government had embarked on major reforms to empower Fiji citizens. This included "modernising laws that we inherited from our colonial past".
Such changes "will always make some around us feel uncomfortable, (but) we must not give in to political or economic expediency".
Fiji claimed the island representatives at the meeting fully supported its "roadmap to democracy", which rules out elections until after September 2014.
Fiji Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau told the meeting the 2006 coup took place to counter external pressure on the country.
"External influence had infiltrated our systems, legal instruments and other aspects of government infrastructure," he said. "The rationale of the military takeover was to rectify these problems."
He did not name the source of the so-called external influence but the implication, again, was that this came from Australia and New Zealand.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith pledged yesterday that Australia would be represented by a senior minister at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit in two weeks. "I will give consideration to my own attendance in the days ahead," he said.
Mr Smith said Australia's efforts to return Fiji to democracy had caused it to be the target of criticism by Fiji.
"We make no apology, no apology whatsoever, for the strong stance we have taken so far as Fiji's returning to democracy is concerned. Fiji should be a premier economy in our region, and it's not -- because of Commodore Bainimarama's taking of power through military rule," Mr Smith said.
"It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a one-way dialogue with a military commodore who doesn't want to engage."
Barry Whiteside, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji, admitted at a meeting on Fiji's troubled economy, taking place at the same time as "Engaging Fiji", that "political events can bring about uncertainty and affect investor confidence" and added, "We need to give confidence by not moving the goalposts too often".