Analyst says Aust/Fiji Forum deal concerning
Australia and Fiji have agreed that Pacific leaders should meet to discuss the state of regional agencies, as the quest continues to have Fiji rejoin the Forum.
A analyst with the regional think tank the Lowy Institute says the announcement by Fiji and Australia of a review of the structure of Pacific regional agencies is concerning.
It was announced at the weekend by Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and her Fiji counterpart, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.
It comes after Fiji continues to refuse to re-join the Pacific Islands Forum, from which it was suspended in 2009 for reneging on its promise to hold elections that year.
Last month, the Forum lifted Fiji's suspension in recognition of its September election, but Fiji has set conditions for any return.
It has repeatedly said it does not want New Zealand and Australia, who mostly bankroll the organisation, to continue as members.
Ratu Inoke now says the Forum could be enlarged to include Japan and maybe the United States, France and South Korea.
The Fiji Sun says China is also expected to be represented.
Don Wiseman asked non resident fellow of the Lowy Institute, Tess Newton-Cain, on the phone from Port Vila, whether the Pacific agencies need to undergo yet another review.
TESS NEWTON-CAIN: Well obviously the announcement's very recent and there's still a certain amount of clarity required. I think that the announcement is one that will cause a number of people, including me, concern. And I think that your question points to the fact that when it comes to reviewing regional architecture we are in danger of being you know being subject to a certain amount of overkill. Because there's been a lot of that sort of work done already. And I don't really sense that there's any need or appetite from the region as a whole to want anymore at this stage.
DON WISEMAN: Do the bodies work as well as they could be working?
TNC: Well I think there are always concerns about the way bodies work, the way they work individually and the way that they work together. There are concerns about what the impact of regionalism is and how the regionalism projects if you like contribute to improving the livelihoods of Pacific Island people. There are significant issues that have been covered in reviews to date. There are significant issues that are still being addressed. But I think what we're in danger of is seeing that the purpose of regionalism is being lost. The purpose of regionalism cannot just be to review regionalism. If we're going to have a commitment to regionalism it needs to be about actually doing things and having concrete impacts for people, not being engaged in an endless round of reviewing and re reviewing.
DW: The Pacific Islands Forum though and it's 40 odd years of existence, can it actually point to achievements?
TNC: Well I think the Pacific Islands Forum is an example in which there have been numerous concerns raised pretty much for as long as it's been in existence, about what it's role is and what it's role should be and it's role is one that's evolving. What the Pacific Islands Forum has provided is an opportunity for leaders to come together at the political level to discuss issues of concern that they want to take forward. Whether it's to be done in a technocratic way or at the diplomatic level or a political level, the Pacific Islands Forum was always envisaged as the forum, as the space in which Island leaders could have those conversations as a group of peers coming together. So that is what the Pacific Islands Forum is for. It's not necessarily, it's not a technical organisation, such as for example, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which has a much more technical mandate and looks at things like fisheries monitoring and supporting agriculture and where we might expect there to be more in terms of tangible outputs.
DW: But can they be peers if you've got two parties particularly, or two leaders, who are holding the purse strings? A lot of money goes into the Pacific Islands Forum, and a big whack of it comes from the taxpayers of Australia and New Zealand, doesn't it?
TNC: Well certainly that is one way in which Australia and New Zealand have applied some of their aid budget to support activities in the Pacific. It does raise an issue of to what extent are the roles blurred between being a member of a group with shared concerns and a member that pays for those concerns. The same issues now apply in relation to Papua New Guinea, which is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum and a development partner, not only for Pacific Island countries but for the region as a whole. So this is obviously an issue that needs to be worked through. But I think it's simplistic to say that 'oh well we'll just change the membership'. The reasons for the Pacific Islands Forum evolving are very clearly political and diplomatic ones. The nature of the relationships may have changed and there may well be scope for revisiting the nature of those relationships. But simply saying 'oh well we'll just have a review of all the regional architecture' does not strike me as the way forward in resolving those issues. And as I said, this announcement is one that causes a great deal of concern both in terms of its content and the way in which it's been made.
DW: Do you think it's purely a sop to the Fiji government from Julie Bishop?
TNC: I can't speak for the motivations for the announcement I think. But I'll certainly say that it strikes me as somewhat concerning that an announcement about regional architecture has been made by two country members and without any apparent reference to the other leaders of the Pacific. I think that that sends some very mixed messages and possibly some very concerning messages. Certainly it does appear from what we've seen so far, to be very heavily influenced by Fiji's wish to reassert itself as a regional leader and Australia seems to be again on the face of it, very keen to go along with that. And I think that's an issue of concern for a number of people.
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