New Zealand must regain Fiji to its fold

Venkat Raman – 

Despite the differences on a number of issues most notably media freedom, Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus, New Zealand and Fiji must work together, for the sake of the people in both countries.

More than 50,000 Fijians live and work in New Zealand, while about 100,000 New Zealanders visit Fiji every year for business and leisure. They need to be assured that the respective governments have bona fide interest in their well-being.

Aftermath of Coup

On that score, the visit of Prime Minister John Key to Fiji (on June 9 and June 10, 2016) had the markings of improving friendship, although his host and Fijian counterpart Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was warm and welcoming but forthright and tough. He did not mince words when he expressed his chagrin at the way he and his country were treated by New Zealand and its government in the aftermath of the military coup that he staged on December 5, 2016 to oust the government of Laisenia Qarase on alleged irregularities, corruption and demographic polarisation.

“The strains and irritants that have marked our political relationship in recent years are a textbook lesson on how not to conduct friendly relations between neighbouring governments. They must be replaced by genuine cooperation and understanding. And I ask you and your government to work with us to create a better framework in which to conduct our affairs. Less prescriptive. More consultative. More understanding of the challenges we face,” he said.

Mr Bainimarama was not receptive to New Zealand’s request to support the candidacy of Helen Clark to the post of UN Secretary General. The fact that he had not forgotten the barrage of attacks that Ms Clark felt obliged to throw at him following the events of December 5, 2016 was evident in his banquet speech.

He however appealed to Mr Key to work with him and his government to strengthen Fiji’s democracy, and improve the lives of Fijians and other Pacific Islands.

“Democracy in Fiji is still in its infancy and hence cannot be as robust and developed as it is in New Zealand but given the time, understanding and goodwill, it will grow to stabilise the country Help us build strong institutions without political bias or interference. Help us build our resilience to climate change and access financial facilities we need to do so,” he said.

More Reports and pictures on the visit of Prime Minister John Key to Fiji appear in this Special Section.

Photo: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key with Lt Commander Andrew aboard ‘HMNZS Otago’ at the Suva Seaport on June 10.

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