Bainimarama set for state visit to New Zealand

Venkat Raman –

Notwithstanding his sharp utterances and strong language against this country in recent months, Fiji’s Prime Minister Josiah Voreqe Bainimarama will receive a formal welcome when he arrives in New Zealand next weekend.

Speaking to the media in Parliament Buildings on Tuesday, October 11, Prime Minister John Key did not express it in as many words that his Fijian counterpart would get a State Welcome but stopped short of saying, “it is highly likely.”

Although there was no official confirmation, Indian Newslink understands that the Fijian leader would be in Auckland on a four-day visit and that a number of meetings have been planned, including an event with the New Zealand Fiji Business Council.

He is also due to attend the Bledisloe Cup Rugby Match at Eden Park on October 22.

All Blacks will take on the Wallabies at this major Rugby event of the year.

Australia’s Guest

The Fiji media has reported that Mr Bainimarama would be in Australia on an official visit this weekend during which he would have official talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other ministers, address a symposium in Sydney and participate in a few other events.

The fact that his visit is being treated as official would prompt the New Zealand government to do the same.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will likely receive a state welcome when he visits New Zealand for the All Blacks test.

Government-to-Government relationship between the two countries have been rocky since December 5, 2006 when Mr Bainimarama ousted the government of Laisenia Qarase and installed his military regime. New Zealand joined Australia in taking an an offensive stand against Mr Bainimarama and the Fijian government, banning officials from visiting their countries.

The two Tasman neighbours also rallied with the Commonwealth to suspend Fiji from membership. Fiji was also suspended from the Pacific Island Forum.

Thorny relations

There have also been a number of other thorns in the flesh.

Mr Bainimarama’s government barred two New Zealand journalists from entering Fiji, stating that their reporting was biased and divorced from reality.

During his private visit to New Zealand in August 2014, Mr Bainimarama gave an exclusive interview with Indian Newslink.

He said, “Many of our friends, including New Zealand, Australia and other member-countries failed to understand the issues that confronted Fiji. They did not understand our plight and the need for reforms not only in terms of a new Constitution but also in the entire administrative machinery. I had to take a number of bold decisions for the good of my people and my country. I never doubted for a moment that there would be opposition,” he said.

He was however confident that after the general election, the world in general and ‘our friends in New Zealand and Australia in particular’ will understand that it was always his intention to establish the institution of democracy firmly in Fiji.

Singapore in Pacific

“I want Fiji to be known as ‘the Singapore of the Pacific’ with a clean and efficient Government, with the basic needs of the people satisfied and a modern and world class infrastructure firmly in place. We cannot achieve any of these without reforms at all levels. The starting point to all these was unification of people under a dynamic, new Constitution that guaranteed equal rights for every Fijian. We cannot move forward if people are discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity or religion,” he said.

Mr Key was a guest of Mr Bainimarama during his official visit to Fiji on June 9 and June 10 this year. This reporter was a part of his media delegation.

He knew that his host would not lose an opportunity to take a snipe at him.

He was not wrong.

In a scathing attack during his speech at an official dinner reception accorded to Mr Key, he said that New Zealand television ran footage of tanks in the streets of Suva when our military does not own any tanks. They had been interposed from other sources.

“A claim was made that Fijian children were starving and were eating grass. These are egregious examples of wilful bias and misreporting. As a great British newspaper editor once said, ‘Comment is free but facts are sacred.’

Yet, certain journalists in New Zealand and Australia, along with certain journalists in Fiji, think nothing of dispensing with the facts if they get in the way of the politically weighted narrative they want to tell.

We are saying to the news organisations that employ them: “Send someone else. Someone who respects the facts and the right of people to know the truth. Not some twisted concoction.”

Positive engagement

You have said that what has happened in the past is ancient history and you are looking for a more positive engagement yourself.

It is a sentiment I welcome. Because Fiji and New Zealand have had far too long a friendship and we are far too close geographically to allow this opportunity to pass. Friends can also say things to each other that others cannot.

For all our closeness at a people-to-people level, Fiji seeks a new political relationship with New Zealand that is more equal. More rooted in mutual respect. More understanding on New Zealand’s part of our own priorities – whether it is on the trade front with the Pacific Agreement of Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus negotiations or our desire to reform our regional architecture to give Pacific Islanders a bigger voice.

Optimistic outlook

New Zealand’s view of recent developments has not been complimentary to Fiji. These include the arrest of opposition leaders and the expulsion of Opposition MP Ratu Isoa Tikoca have not been well received by our politicians and some members of the Fijian Diaspora.

However, Mr Key and his cabinet colleagues will set aside their differences and try to make the best of the visit of Mr Bainimarama.

As Mr Key said at meetings in Fiji, “We would like to begin a new Chapter with Fiji and engage in its development process.”


Photo Caption:

John Key with Frank Bainimarama in Suva on June 10, 2016

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