Fiji gets closer to New Zealand after Ardern’s visit

Fiji gets closer to New Zealand after Ardern’s visit

Balaji Chandramohan

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s recent State visit to Fiji will reset the country’s complicated relationship with Fiji.

She scored high as a compassionate leader, understanding the sentiments of Fijians and embracing the Pacific Island country with charisma.

Editor’s Note: Please read related stories on our website and social media filed by the Editor of Indian Newslink who was a member of the media delegation that accompanied Ms Ardern to Fiji and Australia from February 24 to February 28, 2020.

Accord on Climate Change

Ms Ardern and Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama were on the same page on issues related to Climate Change.

It is now expected that New Zealand will stand with Fiji on many outstanding issues as Fijians observe the 50th Anniversary of their Independence.

One of the highlights of the visit was the way in which New Zealand could differentiate its approach towards Fiji from the way in which Australia has dealt with Suva.

Ms Ardern has made a point that New Zealand has much firmer roots in the Pacific Islands than Australia and New Zealand’s marked departure towards the Pacific Islands in general and Fiji in particular was reflected during last year’s Pacific Islands Summit held in Tuvalu.

Jacinda Ardern with children at Rise Informal Settlement at Tamavua, Suva on February 26, 2020 (Facebook)

Inspiring leadership

The Island countries were attracted to the leadership of Ms Ardern over that of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

She continues to advocate and understand the importance of the South Pacific in New Zealand’s geopolitical thinking.

To a larger extent, this stance also reflects the position held by her Labour Party towards Fiji from the days of former Prime Ministers Peter Fraser, Walt Nash and Helen Clark.

After Fiji was expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum following the coup by Mr Bainimarama on December 5, 2006, China encouraged it to be an active participant in the Melanesian Spearhead Group and even provided funds for the establishment of its Secretariat in Suva.

Signalling a paradigm shift, New Zealand will approach Fiji with a focus on developing its fragile infrastructure, thereby developing the base for providing jobs for its young people who now seek jobs overseas.

It must be said that such a shift was largely facilitated by New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters with his ‘Pacific Reset Programme,’ and visits to Fiji.

New Zealand is likely to support Fiji’s entry to the Polynesian Spearhead Group, a regional multilateral Forum for Polynesians.

Balaji Chandramohan

Biketawa Declaration

New Zealand will also push for the Biketawa Declaration 2.0.

Pacific Island Forum Leaders agreed to the original Security Statement in 2000, after a coup in Fiji that year and ethnic tensions in the Solomon Islands.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands was enabled under the Biketawa Declaration, under which, the Forum countries could form such a mission and send it into a member country upon the request of the affected nation.

New Zealand’s then Prime Minister Helen Clark had a major role to play in this initiative.

Ms Ardern may follow suit and involve New Zealand to be a part of Biketawa Declaration 2.0, which will work in tandem with the regional security force Legion, comprising the Melanesian countries.

Election prospects

She will be aware that carrying Fiji along will go domestically well for the Labour Party, especially in the election year. Mount Albert, her constituency in Auckland, has significant Indo-Fijian and Native Fijian population.

If re-elected, the new Labour government will work actively in the South-West Pacific, South Pacific and South-East Pacific.

After years of neglect, New Zealand has understood Fiji’s position and has approached the relationship with compassion and pragmatism, punching above the weight in the complex South Pacific geo-politics.

Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi, India.

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