Winston could reset ' troubled ' ANZAC-Fiji relations
International relations experts say there could be a silver lining to Cyclone Winston's massive devastation in Fiji - a chance to reset the still troubled relationship between Fiji and its biggest neighbours Australia and New Zealand.
International relations experts say there could be a silver lining to Cyclone Winston's massive devastation in Fiji.
They say it is a chance to reset the still troubled relationship between Fiji and its biggest neighbours Australia and New Zealand.
Sally Round reports.
New Zealand and Australia sped to help Fiji after it took a massive hit from Cyclone Winston ten days ago, killing 43 people and leaving thousands homeless. Their navy ships, medics and engineers are now in the country helping with relief to the remoter islands. New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully was among the first diplomats to call on his Fijian counterpart Ratu Inoke Kubuabola after the cyclone. He says cooperation with Fiji has happened even during difficult times and happens naturally between neighbours.
MURRAY MCCULLY: "When there is an urgent need for humanitarian support everybody in this neighbourhood understands that you just knuckle down and deal with those needs and that's what we've tried to do and I know that's very much appreciated and everyone I met in Fiji told me that."
A senior lecturer in security studies at Massey University Anna Powles says it's the first significant re-engagement with Fiji by New Zealand and Australia and is being watched very closely. She says relations have struggled to get back on a strong footing even since the restoration of full diplomatic links after Fiji's 2014 elections, the first since the 2006 coup. Dr Powles says the relationship won't be completely reset without a significant overture like a visit to Fiji by the New Zealand prime minister John Key.
ANNA POWLES: "It's those kind of overtures which are so critical and go above and beyond how much money is given or which assets are deployed in response. It's that rebuilding of the relationship and rebuilding of trust that's going to be the most important dynamic in this."
Richard Herr who heads an international relations school at the Fiji National University says Fiji has not easily forgotten the sanctions imposed by New Zealand and Australia after the coup.
RICHARD HERR: "Politically the sanctions left a legacy of distrust. Now hopefully things like this, the fact that it's genuine and wholehearted support might rebuild some confidence and reduce those levels of distrust that have been built up over the years."
Fiji's smaller neighbours have also sped to Fiji's aid despite most being heavily reliant on international aid themselves. There've been cash donations from Nauru, Samoa and Kiribati, and Tonga has sent a navy patrol boat delivering water, food and shelter. A scholar of regional affairs, Fijian Steven Ratuva, says Cyclone Winston has only reinforced regional solidarity. And he says it's times like these when Fiji's traditional ties with New Zealand and Australia show through.
STEVEN RATUVA: "The cultural, economic and political relationship between these countries are very, very solid despite the post coup tension between these countries, but fundamentally they're still long-term friends and this is being tested at this time when Fiji needs help."
Dr Powles says the ferocious cyclone should drive home the message New Zealand and Australia need to be more proactive and in tune with Pacific Island countries' climate change concerns. The two countries are seen as out of step with the region.
ANNA POWLES: "It does feel like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff actually. I would hope that those in Wellington and Canberra would actually see long-term, it will be far more beneficial to actually work towards climate change consensus with the Pacific Island countries as well as obviously having to respond to increasing natural disasters."
Dr Powles says the region needs to set up a special Disaster Response and Coordination Unit to cope with the higher frequency of intense cyclones predicted for the region.
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