Fiji stand-off a chance for NZ/Aust to redefine roles
An academic says the imbroglio involving Fiji and Australia and New Zealand offers a chance for the larger countries to redefine their role in the Pacific.
A New Zealand academic says there is a need for his country and Australia to redefine their roles in the Pacific amid the ongoing standoff with Fiji's leader.
Fiji prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, says he will not take his seat at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit, because of the undue influence New Zealand and Australia wield.
He also criticised their lack of action on critical issues for the Pacific like climate change.
The director of Massey University's Pasifika Centre, Malakai Koloamatangi, says Mr Bainimarama's views have a lot of validity, though he could have handled it more diplomatically.
DR MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: I think what Bainimarama is saying a lot of people would agree with. And of course these are sentiments that have been expressed in private for a very long, long time. There is nothing new in that sense. I think the timing of it, if I were Bainimarama I probably wouldn't say what I have said right now and then not in the way that he said it. And I would say it in a more milder sort of a way that New Zealand and Australia ought to re-look or to revisit the way that they are funding the Forum, the secretariat of the Forum, but also their own role within it has to be revisited. Also of course just harking back to Fiji's suspension from the Forum, which of course wasn't New Zealand and Australia's decision to make - it was the Forum leaders decision to make and so they were suspended because of that, because of the rules. Also what Bainimarama needs to be conscious of is the fact that when he criticises New Zealand and Australia he is in a way also criticising his colleagues - the leaders of the other nations. And of course Samoa has come out to support New Zealand and Australia and advocated for the Forum Secretariat to be relocated to Apia. I don't think that is going to happen but of course Tuilaepa is very good at making those statements. I also take it that perhaps some members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group have also got reservations about what Bainimarama has said. So the timing of it has not always been quite right and also the way in which he has expressed these ideas is also not quite right. But I think the core of what he is saying I think it is quite right. I think people agree with it but it is just the way in which he expressed these ideas.
DON WISEMAN: That is all done now isn't it. So the thing is what is going to happen next? I mean New Zealand and Australia have gone through a number of cycles in the Pacific where they pay a lot of attention and they ignore it, they pay a lot of attention and they ignore it and this has gone on for forty or fifty years. And we are going through another one of those ignore stages really, aren't we? So do you think there is a need for New Zealand to step up its game?
MK: I think so, I think for both New Zealand and Australia but more so New Zealand because New Zealand seems to be getting better traction with its policies maybe because it is a smaller country and the Pacific Islands feel some, some affinity to that sort of a small in size kind of approach but it is a golden opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to actually wipe the slate clean. I think the slate has been wiped clean anyway by Bainimarama but also reengage with him in a new direction. Get him around the table 'lets talk about this with what are your concerns really, what do you want us to do' and then respond to that, but frame it in a way that sounds and looks like that you are redefining your relationship and your policy to the Pacific, rather than sort of correcting the wrongs and so forth. So don't do that. Put it in a positive light and say we are looking at re-engaging, redefining our roles in the Pacific and Fiji will help us to do that.
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