New Zealand and Australia stand at the risk of being side-lined as the Republic of Fiji opens its doors for wider bilateral relations with the rest of the world, notably the emerging economies of Asia and the Middle East.
The Government in Suva is clearly upbeat about the prospects of increasing cooperation, aid and most importantly, ‘political understanding,’ with China, Russia, Korea, India, Indonesia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and many other countries as observed by a business delegation that visited Fiji last fortnight.
This reporter was a part of that delegation, which returned home with most of its members confident of doing business with the South Pacific nation, despite political and other sanctions imposed by Wellington and Canberra in the wake of the military coup that ousted the Laisenia Qarase Government and installed Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama on December 5, 2006.
The Changing Face
This issue incorporates a 16-page Report on ‘The Changing Face of Fiji,’ beginning on Page 11. It carries assurances of Fiji’s leadership on return to democracy, tax reforms, incentives to foreign and local investors and the prospects for overseas businesspersons for constructive engagement with their Fijian counterparts.
The Fijian Government, it was apparent, is keen to bifurcate politics and economics.
New Zealand companies are among the beneficiaries of the transformation brought about the Bainimarama Government during its seven-year rule.
Three of them won the single largest contract (of combined value of F$420 million) given by the Government to develop its infrastructure (as reported in our July 1 issue).
Even as we were in Fiji, Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola met with key officials from Korea Speciality Contractor Financial Cooperative, one of the largest companies of its type on ways of boosting Fiji’s development projects. The Company has reportedly provided more than US$ 178 billion globally as guarantees, direct finance and insurance to construction projects.
Fiji is also actively discussing a number of projects with other countries.
Mr Kubuabola has been expressing the anger and bitterness that his Government feels about Australia and New Zealand, especially the former, in his speeches made in recent weeks.
Addressing the annual Australia Fiji Forum held in Brisbane on July 29, he said, “We remain deeply disappointed that instead of constructive engagement, Australia chose to punish Fiji for finally addressing the deep divisions in our society, lack of equality and genuine democracy and the corruption that was destroying our country from within. Our doors are always open but you chose not to enter,” he said.
Speaking to Indian Newslink in Suva on July 31, Mr Kubuabola said that New Zealand (like Australia) had failed to understand the peculiar problems and challenges that have been confronting Fiji for a long time.
“It takes time to bring about a radical change, including putting in place a Constitution, ending the inequity in our society, eradicating corruption that was endemic in our public services and establishing a system for a sustained and progressive democracy. Our Government, led by Mr Bainimarama is working towards enabling our people to realise their dream of a classless society. Australia and New Zealand have not cared to listen to us,” he said.
Although the two powerful neighbours have neither recognised the Bainimarama Government nor taken note of the fact that peace and harmony exists in Fiji, the rest of the world appears to be in a mood to understand the situation. While Australia and New Zealand have somewhat scaled down their diplomatic presence in Suva (so has Fiji in the Australian and New Zealand Capitals), there is a flurry of diplomatic activity in Fiji. Most diplomats attending the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum (PDIF) held in Nadi on August 5, praised the initiative but regretted that not all member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum were represented.
PIDF, which has established its Secretariat in Suva, is considered as the beginning of regional and international cooperation.
We will report on the proceedings of the Forum in our next issue.
Bainimarama (third from left) arriving at Sheraton Fiji Resort in Nadi on August 6, 2013 with Gordon Darcy Lilo and Xanana Gusmao, respectively Prime Ministers of Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste to attend the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum (Picture by Minfo News)