Fiji regime attacks Canberra's policy on boat people
Fiji attack on Canberra comes as Fiji repositions itself globally and regionally.
The Fiji government has demanded Australia consult its Melanesian neighbours over plans to move asylum seekers into the region.
In a hard-hitting attack on Canberra, Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said the Australian government's latest policy was continuing a high-handed and arrogant pattern of behaviour.
Ratu Inoke's speech in Brisbane follows regime leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama's criticisms last week of Canberra's plan to send all would be refugees arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea for potential settlement.
Professor Richard Herr of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at Fiji National University says the latest criticisms come as Fiji repositions itself globally and regionally. He spoke to Sally Round.
RICHARD HERR: It was probably the forthcoming Pacific Islands Development Forum, which Ratu Inoke mentioned. It's really about Fiji repositioning itself globally and regionally. And I think that probably concentrated the mind on the implications, at least, of the asylum seekers' resettlement in Papua New Guinea as an issue for all of Melanesia, and, therefore, falling into this general restructure of the architecture of the region.
SALLY ROUND: But do you think there are genuine concerns there about instability for the region with this policy?
RH: I think that Fiji thinks that if the worst of their fears were to be realised, it's virtually that the PNG policy doesn't have the effect that Peter O'Neill and Kevin Rudd thought it would have, which is that virtually no-one would go to Papua New Guinea if, in fact, it simply redirects the pipeline from Christmas Island into Manus Island with some carryover into possibly the Solomons and Vanuatu, that this would, in fact, add to the difficulties of nation-building in these three Melanesian countries that are very important to Fiji as part of the MSG.
SR: So is Fiji trying to take on a leadership role or continue that sort of building of a leadership role ahead of this meeting next week?
RH: Probably so. It's certainly saying to its Melanesian partners that issues that have broader regional implications within the MSG ought to be subject to some consultation and sharing of information, and, in a way, that's no different to what the Indonesians said about the sharing of information and consultation before the policy was announced and so forth. In other words, I think as the policy has become more widely known its implications are being parsed out in capitals well removed from the two – Canberra and Port Moresby – where it was drafted.
SR: Back to the Australia-Fiji relationship, it's almost exactly a year since a return to full diplomatic ties was announced, not only between Australia and Fiji, but New Zealand and Fiji, yet nothing has happened. And things have seemingly got worse, at least as far as the Australia-Fiji relationship goes. What do you think has gone wrong here?
RH: I think the most serious problem was last year when Fiji was not readmitted into the forum. I think that had much more consequences in Fiji than either Australia or New Zealand seemed to recognise. I certainly said I thought it was the last chance to get Fiji back into the forum last year, and clearly the Fiji government felt that slight very seriously, they felt they'd done enough, certainly to have the forum sanctions lifted and yet they were told to go away and try again. And I think they just said, 'No, we're not going to go away and try again anymore, we're going to chart our own course'. And that's clearly what they've been doing with building their connections through the BRIC strategy, the 'Look North' strategy, a whole range of strategies, in effect, that look away from the traditional allies to new friends in Asia.
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