Academic: Australia, New Zealand Reengagement With Fiji ‘Not Working’

Diplomatic opening no more successful than sanctions regime: Fraenkel

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 29, 2016) – In the wake of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key's controversial visit to Fiji, an expert on Pacific affairs says Canberra and Wellington's diplomatic attempts to re-engage with Suva are not working.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama used Mr Key's visit earlier this month to give a speech justifying his 2006 military coup and lambasting New Zealand and Australia for the sanctions that followed.

Australia lifted the remaining sanctions and sought to normalise diplomatic relations with Fijiafter the country held democratic elections in 2014.

After many years of bilateral tensions, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said it marked a new era in the relationship, which she described as a "work in progress".

But Professor Jon Fraenkel from the Australian National University told Pacific Beat diplomatic re-engagement with Suva has not delivered better outcomes.

"For many years after the 2006 coup, those who were sympathetic to that coup argued that the policy of sanctions had failed ... and implied that a policy of re-engagement would deliver significant results," he said.

"I'm simply pointing out that actually the policy of re-engagement hasn't been particularly successful either."

Suva has been accused of restricting media freedom and allowing police and military abusesand recently banned an opposition MP from parliament for two years for insulting a member of the government.

But Professor Fraenkel said Australia and New Zealand have been reluctant to criticise the Fiji government's failures.

"There are a series of issues that probably Australia and New Zealand would like to raise, and certainly people within Fiji would like to raise — about media censorship, about the new parliament which is not working particularly well, and about corruption," he said.

"I think there has to be some scope to have an effective debate within Fiji about how well the Fiji government has done now that it's ten years since the coup of December 2006."

'A very striking change'

Mr Fraenkel said he has observed a marked shift in Australia's foreign policy towards its Pacific neighbours in recent years.

"There's been a very striking change over the last five or six years compared to the Howard-Downer years and the Helen Clark government in New Zealand where there was a greater willingness to intervene, for example, in the Solomon Islands and East Timor," he said.

"There was a rhetoric, sometimes a very critical rhetoric, about Pacific Island leaders. One wouldn't necessarily go along with everything that was said at that time.

"But now there's been a shift to a much more pragmatic, national interest-oriented policy towards the Pacific.

"With Australia establishing these detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island there's a reluctance to criticise authoritarian backsliding in Nauru.

"There's also a sense that policy towards Fiji hasn't been greatly successful and no longer will there be any kind of comment about what's going on in that country.

"It's been a very striking change, one would perhaps like a bit more balance in this."

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