4 Oct 2013

Restoration of NZ Fiji relationship a long way off says Fiji academic

5:57 pm on 4 October 2013

Fiji-New Zealand relations could remain cool for some time to come, despite an easing of Wellington's stance on Suva.

Fiji's military regime has scoffed at New Zealand's recent announcement it would further ease sanctions on the country as too little too late.

Sally Round reports:

New Zealand last month announced it would further ease travel bans on top members of the Fiji government as a reward for Fiji's progress towards elections next year. Australia's new foreign minister Julie Bishop has signalled an easing of Canberra's stance although no lifting of sanctions just yet.

"JULIE BISHOP: We want to see an election, a credible election held as soon as we can. In the mean time we'll continue to talk on the best way to achieve that, and that will involve discussions with other Pacific Island nations who have a stake in this, as well."

But Fiji has been dismissive and refused to set a date for the exchange of top-level diplomats, after Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners were expelled following the 2006 coup. Last week the regime leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama presented Fiji's new constitution to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

FRANK BAINIMARAMA: Regrettably and to our great disappointment, some of our oldest friends had no faith in us. They abandoned us and sought to punish us with sanctions. We sought their assistance and understanding, but they turned their back on us.

An academic at the Fiji government-supported University of Fiji, Dr Richard Herr, says it will take a long time for trust between the countries to be restored.

RICHARD HERR: We have had a long period of distrust. I can see this in terms of the young public servants that I educate through the University of Fiji. They see themselves in a much more open and fluid international environment than was true in the past. Traditional loyalties aren't there to build on so easily.

A group of young pro-democracy advocates in Suva, who do not want their identities revealed, say Australia and New Zealand's policies have not really worked.

WOMAN: It affected the innocent people. And obviously you're going to stay in Fiji. What are you going to do? Your father is in the military. Why don't you just join the military? You can't go and pursue your career...

MAN: For a lot of young people military was the only option. The international community needs to have a smarter foreign policy, you know?

A former New Zealand diplomat, Michael Powles, says he is no fan of sanctions, but they were important for morale in Fiji.

MICHAEL POWLES: Fiji has for a long time had one of the most active and vibrant civil societies, both in the human rights field and politically, as well. I think it was important for their morale for them to know that there were governments that mattered, from their point of view, and mattered to Fiji, who were taking a stand.

Fiji has since the coup established a slew of new ties with dozens of countries, from Uganda to Russia and nurtured ties with China which revealed this week its assistance to Fiji had grown 26 percent in the first six months of this year. And Commodore Bainimarama has held the chairmanship of several international bodies.

FRANK BAINIMARAMA: Now our standing in the world has never been stronger.

But a member of Fiji's political grouping the United Front for a Democratic Fiji, Mick Beddoes, says its important traditional relationships are restored and he's sceptical of the regime's actions internationally, including its newly formed Pacific Islands Development Forum.

MICK BEDDOES: It's a big hoopla about nothing. It's just a PR campaign, a new stage, a new platform, to try and project some form of legitimacy for the regime.

Meanwhile Dr Herr of the University of Fiji says the Bainimarama government feels very aggrieved by its treatment by New Zealand and Australia and he does not see normalisation of relations happening any time soon.