#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: US: 'our goal is to put Fiji back on track for reintegration into international institutions and for holding free and fair elections no later than 2014'

Thursday, September 30, 2010

US: 'our goal is to put Fiji back on track for reintegration into international institutions and for holding free and fair elections no later than 2014'

In a speech to Washington, the assistant secretary for the Pacific for the United States, Kurt Campbell, says there is ongoing concern about Fiji.
In a paper that covered a range of issues, from climate change and education, Campbell singled out two countries in particular - Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Corruption was highlighted in PNG and the coup leader's failure to restore democracy was noted about Fiji.

Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is by far the largest, wealthiest and most populous Pacific Island country; its influence is felt throughout the region. The United States sees the growth of the economy in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as beneficial to the region. PNG is on the verge of exploiting hydrocarbon resources that could enable it to become one of the world’s largest exporters of natural gas, fundamentally transforming PNG’s economy and society. We have a strong interest in the success of PNG’s energy sector and related public financial management reforms.

However, the government has moved slowly on public financial management reforms and recently attempted to dilute the powers of the national ombudsman. Corruption, misuse of resources, and lack of capacity have led to declining social services and increasing poverty. In PNG, gender discrimination also threatens to derail progress in civil society and economic development. 

Beatings and rape are common; women are ignored in the workplace; and female education and literacy rates are far below those of men. Reform-minded government leaders in PNG are looking for U.S. support and guidance. We are examining ways to assist PNG in natural resource governance and in educating and empowering women with the hope of supporting PNG to reach the full promise of its development.

Fiji
Inextricably linked with regional economic development is the vital issue of good governance. In this arena, the current state of affairs in Fiji is a matter of on-going concern. Traditionally, Fiji has been a close and valued friend and partner in the region, as well as a leading voice for Pacific Island democracy. Fiji also has a long history of contributing troops to multilateral peacekeeping missions, was quick to condemn the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and has been a staunch supporter of our efforts to build an international coalition against global terrorism.

However, since the 2006 coup in Fiji, and the ascendance of the military regime led by Prime Minister Bainimarama, there has been an unfortunate reversal of Fiji’s leadership role. Fiji’s exclusion from the Pacific Island Forum since 2009 has detracted from progress on important regional issues.

Fiji’s coup leaders have not taken any credible steps to restore democratic institutions. After breaking a promise to hold elections in 2009, they now promise to begin work in 2012 to craft a new constitution and hold elections in 2014. They also promised to lift public emergency regulations, but the regulations remain in place, the press remains heavily censored, and the right to assembly is severely restricted. Fiji has failed to restore democracy or institute structural reforms. The entrenchment of authoritarian rule indifferent to criticism has become a dangerous model for the region and the global community.

The United States maintains sanctions pursuant to Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act and other policy restrictions, including limitations on military and other assistance to the Government of Fiji. This includes visa bans against coup leaders, suspension of certain military sales, and restrictions on certain bilateral engagement. The United States calls for an open, inclusive, and transparent process for free and fair elections, the re-establishment of an independent judiciary, and an end to media crackdowns and other limits on civil liberties.

To date, we have focused our efforts on areas where our engagement is yielding positive results and serves to illustrate the advantages of a more positive bilateral partnership. We continue to provide assistance in ways that support the Fijian people and promote our interests, for example, for disaster preparedness and combating transnational crime. Despite the difficult political environment, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, through the Human Rights and Democracy Fund, is now supporting multi-year programs in Fiji on media training and on ethnic dialogue and tolerance.

We now hope, in close coordination with regional players, to seek more direct engagement with Prime Minister Bainimarama to encourage his government to take steps to restore democracy and freedom that would allow movement toward normalization of Fiji’s relations with other countries in the region. This engagement would spotlight the potential benefits of positive political steps, while reinforcing the message that any easing of U.S. sanctions is tied to the restoral of democratic processes.

Our objective is to put Fiji back on track for reintegration into international institutions and for holding free and fair elections no later than 2014. By taking credible steps towards an increased civilian role in government and other democratic reforms, the regime could build confidence, in accordance with agreed upon benchmarks and timelines, that would lead towards the restoration of Fiji’s former international role and stature.

Working with Regional Players
As we strengthen our engagement in the Pacific, we will actively cooperate with other important players in the region to advance the stability, prosperity, and freedom of the people and nations of the Pacific Islands.

We have long collaborated closely with Australia and New Zealand, who have deep historical, economic, and strategic ties with their Pacific Island neighbors. The United States recognizes the very real leadership role Australia and New Zealand play in the South Pacific region. Both nations’ vigorous leadership and foreign assistance to countries in the region play a key role in promoting the welfare of people throughout the Pacific. Close cooperation and coordination with Australia and New Zealand will continue to be a hallmark of our Pacific strategy. 

Working closely with our key allies, Australia and New Zealand, we will continue to pursue strategies to promote shared interests in peace and stability in this important and dynamic region.

We also welcome the increasingly prominent role of newer players, particularly Japan’s leadership in renewable energy and climate change issues. We are also pleased to consult regularly with the European Union, which is increasingly engaged in the region, on developments and policies in the Pacific.

And just as we welcome the increased role for our allies, we also note the efforts of other countries who seek to play a constructive role in the region. The United States shares a common interest with China and Russia in the development and welfare of the Pacific Islands. There is no zero-sum competition between the United States and China or Russia in the Pacific. Rather, we seek to identify areas of potential cooperation that can ensure regional stability, security, and prosperity. 

It was in that spirit that I raised possible cooperation in the Pacific Islands with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai during his visit to Washington last month. We welcome engagement by other countries desiring to enhance the prosperity, stability, and democratic governance of the Pacific Islands through transparent interactions and engagements. We also seek to continue our work through multilateral assistance programs. On-going substantive discussions in Washington and in-country with the Asian Development Bank and World Bank aim to ensure that we are working in a coordinated fashion and our activities have successful outcomes.

Conclusion
The United States is enhancing our engagement in the Pacific, now and for the long term. I am encouraged by the progress this Administration has made thus far and by the positive reception our efforts have received in the region. Undoubtedly, we must continue to identify new and better ways to engage with the Pacific, we appreciate the interest and leadership of this Committee and the support you have given to our efforts. I look forward to on-going cooperation with the Congress to advance U.S. interests in the Pacific and contribute to a secure, prosperous and democratic future for the nations and people of the Pacific.  


Editor's note: Full speech available from the US State Department's website.

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