9 Jul 2013

US policy on Fiji a work in progress says US regional expert

5:24 pm on 9 July 2013

A senior adviser on the region for a Washington-based think tank says the United States' foreign policy on Fiji is still a work in progress.

Ernest Bower of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies says Washington is trying to figure out the most effective role it could play alongside New Zealand and Australia. He spoke to Sally Round.

ERNEST BOWER: It is impossible for me to sit here and tell you, as I'm not a member of the US government, what the US position precisely is on Fiji. And I think some of that may be strategic ambiguity. Personally, my view is that we need to be more engaged. I think, to be honest with you, we're trying to sort out what's the most effective American role vis-a-vis roles others are playing. So Australia feels like it's playing the bad boy, the bad cop on this one. New Zealand seems to be trying to play the slightly less bad cop, or good cop. And the question is where do we fit in there to help be effective? And I think the answer is that's a work in progress.

SALLY ROUND: Why is it taking so long? The coup was 2006 and we're heading towards elections. People are questioning why the US has seemed almost reluctant to become involved.

EB: I think the United States wants to get it right. They will always stand on the side of democracy, so where there's a coup or where there's a clear violation of democratic values, there's no question where the Americans stand on that - we want to see an election, a free and fair election that would put a government in place that is legal and would be chosen by the people of Fiji. So there's no doubt about that. I think the question is more at a practical policy level - how can you be effective in encouraging that outcome? As Americans look around Asia, I think there's a compelling case that you can make that governance and democracy is going pretty darn well. From Myanmar to recent elections in Malaysia, Indonesia has already made the turn. Even in Vietnam, there's more participation by voters and more influence, even on the Communist party. So I think the trends are going in the right direction. We know from experience that weighing in in a heavy-handed way doesn't always help the situation. And I think, to be quite honest with you, if we thought that weighing in strongly in Fiji would result in a free and fair election, we'd do it.

SR: Is the US government watching the process towards elections next year closely?

EB: Yes. We've got really good leaders in our state department, who are are assigned to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, that are watching this very closely. Our eyes aren't closed. Could we be more effective? Perhaps. Do we know how? We don't. So I think if we figured that out, we would.