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Critical of Australia, New Zealand heavy-handedness

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Sun, June 1, 2009) – An influential American congressman has again warned about "inept policies and heavy-handed actions" of the New Zealand and Australian governments in dealing with Fiji.

American Samoa’s Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin is quoted by New Zealand’s biggest newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, as saying they are putting American interests in the Pacific at risk.

"Fortunately, the Obama Administration is gaining a better understanding of ... how our friends in Canberra and Wellington have dropped the ball," he said.

The USA, he said, should offer Fiji the necessary resources to reform its electoral process, redraft its constitution and to hold successful elections.

Washington should also offer to help strengthen Fiji’s economy -- and longterm stability -- through the promotion of bilateral trade and investment, particularly in tourism.

Faleomavaega is a ranking member of the House of Representatives foreign relations committee in Washington and chairs its Asia-Pacific subcommittee. He recently visited Fiji.

"Heavy-handed tactics and misguided sanctions" used by Wellington and Canberra politicians had hurt average Fijians far more than the post-coup government, he said.

Punishing average Fijians would never solve the country’s problems, he added. Faleomavaega has called for the United States to step up its influence in region. He earlier also discussed this with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a fellow Democrat. She has asked for his help on this.

The report in the New Zealand Herald about his views follows an Opinion piece he wrote for one of Australia’s most influential newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald.

Faleomavaegahas said that the USA has increasingly deferred to the governments of New Zealand and Australia on Pacific issues, and that the State Department has neglected Oceania.

Faleomavaega was earlier reported to have told Mrs Clinton that Australia and New Zealand were making "nasty accusations" against Fiji. He told her they were "acting with a heavy hand" about a "situation that is more complex than it appears".

Faleomavaega says Fiji and its one million people also play a vital trans-Pacific role.

The USA should play a more proactive and independent role, one offering the country a better chance of emerging from its current crisis, he said.

"For too long, the US has deferred to Australia and New Zealand ... despite their obvious policy failures," he said.

Faleomavaega warned that China had stepped in to help Fiji, offering grants, concessionary loans and enhanced trade opportunities.

He said Australian and New Zealand "foreign policy elites" wrongly viewed the region with a eurocentric mentality. Fiji’s complex ethnic mix was not adequately appreciated in Canberra and Wellington.

The congressman also wants the USA to hold a Pacific Islands "conference of leaders" in Washington. This is so that President Barack Obama and senior officials can meet the region’s leaders.

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