NEW ZEALAND VIEWS ON RECENT EVENTS IN FIJI

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SPEECH

By The New Zealand High Commissioner HE Mr. Adrian Simcock

Suva Rotary Club

April 11, 2002

President and Members of the Suva Rotary Club.

I thank you for the kind welcome you have extended to me this afternoon and for the opportunity to meet you and make some new friends and contacts. I am glad to be here with you.

Let me begin by paying Rotary and Rotarians a compliment. I am not a Rotarian, but during my diplomatic career I have had a great deal of contact with Rotary Clubs and with projects to improve the wellbeing of the community which Rotarians always so readily undertake.

Immediately before coming to Fiji a few months ago, I was posted for four years as High Commissioner to India, with responsibility also for Nepal. I am very conscious of the contribution your fellow Rotarians in these two countries made in assisting with projects to help the economically under-privileged and deprived. One of Rotary’s great successes was the global polio eradication project. The New Zealand High Commission in New Delhi, through Rotary New Zealand, was pleased to assist in this.

I know that Rotary in Fiji is equally committed and involved. In my view, Rotary’s standing is high and I commend you Rotarians for your significant contribution to the community as a service organization.

When I was invited to be your guest today I was given a free choice on the subject I might speak upon. I am grateful for this forbearance and it will not surprise you, I think, if I talk about New Zealand views on recent events in Fiji; some of the considerations which have helped to shape the New Zealand perspectives of this country; where the bilateral relationship is placed at this time; and the direction in which it might develop from now on.

A good starting point is consideration of all of those deep ties which do link our two countries so closely, for these have been fundamental in shaping the way New Zealand regards Fiji.

New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji goes far back and it involves a wide variety of linkages, which make for an essentially robust association between the two countries. We have ties which have their roots in the early colonial history of both countries, giving a shared experience and commonality of views, attitudes and values which has flowed through to shared membership of the Commonwealth. There has been a long military association, evidenced by the many photographs in the Officers Mess at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks of distinguished New Zealand soldiers who have served with and led the Fiji Military Forces. The military association is also reflected in the cooperation between New Zealand and Fiji in international peacekeeping operations. At the present time our forces are serving together in East Timor.

New Zealand and Fiji also share regional political, security and economic interests. Fiji is an influential player in the Forum and other regional organizations and it is the host country for many of those institutions. It would be accurate to say that New Zealand regards Fiji as a natural leader among Pacific Island countries, and, therefore, a country with which New Zealand wishes to work closely to achieve mutual regional objectives.

And of course, there are many people-to-people links; people, including the Prime Minister, who have studied in New Zealand; New Zealanders who have visited Fiji for business, or as a tourist destination; and people from Fiji who have moved to New Zealand for permanent settlement -- a number which is regrettably large because of the successive political disturbances which have taken place in this country.

And there is a trade connection. Fiji is New Zealand’s major Pacific trading partner, and is among about the top twenty of New Zealand’s markets globally. Exports in the year to December 2001 were over $217 million and imports from Fiji for the same period were nearly $57 million. A two-way trade totalling some $274 million makes this a significant trade partnership. Much of our trade is in the food sector and is associated with tourism. New Zealand, therefore, has a close and direct economic interest in seeing the continuation of the revival of tourism in this country.

All of these links form the basis for a good relationship; they represent the strong underpinning of the relationship and the source of the large reservoir of goodwill for Fiji which exists in New Zealand.

But, as you will know, the relationship has gone through a period of stress in recent times.

I think, in this regard, that it is useful to consider the elements which influenced the New Zealand view of the coup of May 2000 and the events which followed, for these elements remain as the reference points which New Zealand will continue to use in shaping its relations with Fiji as the country moves ahead out of the terrible events of May 2000.

As a small player on the international scene, New Zealand has always sought to base its world view on adherence to some fundamental principles which, we believe, have universal application. These principles include adherence to the rule of law, paramountcy of democratic processes, freedom of expression, respect for individuals, absence of discrimination and equality of opportunity for all people.

For small countries without the physical means to protect their interests on their own, adherence to these principles is the best means to ensure that world order is maintained.

I believe that this is a point which Fiji, also a small country, would do well not to overlook.

The overthrow of lawful, constitutional government in Fiji in May 2000 was an abrogation of the principles which I have outlined as being so important to the New Zealand world view. The strength of New Zealand’s censure of Fiji, therefore, in which my Government expressed dismay and disapproval at what had occurred, was in conformity with the principles which New Zealand upholds.

Since the coup, Fiji has made huge progress in restoring in this country democratic processes, affirmation of the provisions of the Constitution and application of the rule of law. A legitimate Parliament is in place as a result of an electoral process judged independently to be largely free and fair. Government under a duly elected Prime Minister is functioning, the due process of the law has been applied, or is being applied, against those who instigated the events which plunged this country into such difficulty, and international relationships, including membership of the Commonwealth, are in the process of being repaired. In some of these areas, the level of attainment may not be all that would be desired. But I do not think this should mask the magnitude of what has been achieved, or diminish respect for the efforts of those in the Government and in the private sector who have sought to heal the wounds caused to Fiji by George Speight and his accomplices.

I doubt that one could find an example of another country in the world where the over-throw of legitimate government has been so quickly rectified.

New Zealand’s response to this has been clear. Constraints upon the relationship which had been imposed as an expression of our censure, have been removed and we are working to restore our ties, re-engaging across the full breadth of links which previously existed. Foreign Minister Tavola has made a successful official visit to New Zealand and we look forward to that visit being reciprocated.

What this means is that, in the New Zealand view, Fiji is moving back to norms of behavior which comply with those principles which New Zealand regards as being essential in any state to ensure the world order.

So far so good, but I think that we all recognise that there is some distance yet to journey in Fiji. And there are a couple of points I would like to emphasize.

Fiji does not yet have in place a Cabinet whose composition complies with the requirements of the Constitution. This means that there remains a significant step to go in restoring Fiji fully to the position of constitutional legality which existed prior to May 2000.

This comment is not intended as a criticism, but it is a fact. New Zealand accepts the assurances which have been given by the Government that the provisions of the Constitution, as interpreted by the Courts, will be applied. There are legal processes which the Government wishes to work through. We recognise that, and the Government’s right to do it. We look forward to that process being completed.

Another point I want to make refers to the talk of a pardon for George Speight and his convicted accomplices.

I do not wish to be seen to be interfering in domestic concerns of Fiji, but I do want to make quite clear that a pardon or significant diminution of sentence would have a significant impact on New Zealand’s view of Fiji and the way in which we wished to conduct our relationship with this country.

No one in Fiji, including those who were associated with the coup and those who support the cause which George Speight claimed to represent, should underestimate the depth of the abhorrence which the events in the precincts of Parliament in May 2000 caused in New Zealand. And I believe that abhorrence was shared elsewhere in the international community. People who talk about a pardon would do well to ponder upon the nature of the crimes which were committed and the potential which a pardon would have in again driving a barrier between Fiji and its partners and friends in the international community, including New Zealand.

Essentially, I am optimistic about Fiji in the future. There are enormous problems, but this is not a unique circumstance. Fiji has many strengths and resources. These must be nurtured. People of goodwill in Fiji will seek to do this, and in this endeavour, New Zealand wishes to help.

Thank you for your attention. I hope that what I have had to say has been of some interest.

Thank you.

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