2 Aug 2013

Fiji looks to rearrange the regional architecture

6:21 pm on 2 August 2013

Fiji is hosting its inaugural Pacific Island Development Forum meeting next week.

Observers say it's an attempt to rival the Pacific Islands Forum from which Fiji has been suspended since 2009.

Sally Round reports.

Looking forward, honouring the past is the slogan of the three-day meeting. Publicity material brands it as the Pacific's first broad alliance of public and private sector and civil society organisations all working together to secure the future of the region through the Green Economy. The director of Fiji University's Centre for International and Regional Affairs Professor Richard Herr says the gathering is clearly intended to re-invent the region's long-established Pacific Islands Forum without Australia and New Zealand.

"RICHARD HERR: There's no doubt about that. The name and everything else about it suggests that this is the intention. Whether it will have the resources to do that, I mean it's being funded by a number of outside powers that probably won't stay the distance, but if it survives even as a parallel body it will weaken the role of Australia and New Zealand through the forum without a doubt."

China, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are among those funding the meeting which Fiji says will bring together 23 countries and ten observer countries. In a hard hitting critique of Australia's policy towards Fiji this week, Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said it's part of Fiji's desire to rearrange the regional architecture. He says Australia and New Zealand have a disproportionate influence in the Pacific Islands Forum.

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA STATEMENT: The island countries will be able to discuss their own challenges and formulate their own solutions, free from outside interference and the prescription of their larger neighbours.

The meeting's programme includes addresses from the leaders of Timor Leste, Solomon Islands and Kiribati. New Zealand and Australia have confirmed they will be sending representatives from their missions in Suva. Steven Ratuva from the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland says in the current fast-changing dynamics of Pacific politics Australia and New Zealand appear to be struggling to keep up.

STEVEN RATUVA: The fact that Australia and New Zealand have now applied to be observers in the Pacific Development Forum is quite significant. Perhaps they didn't want to miss the boat at the same time they don't want to be seen to be rushing around to make sure that they don't miss the boat so there's much more complex political games being played here.

Tongan opposition MP Dr Sitiveni Halapua says he's looking forward to a meeting which has very practical applications and involves church leaders. The meeting opens on Monday morning with a guard of honour and traditional ceremonies by Fiji's military forces.