Tough talk with Fiji fails: Lowy
Tamara McLean, AAP South Pacific Correspondent
May 11, 2011
Australia's tough love policy on Fiji has failed, according to a new Lowy Institute briefing which urges Canberra to take Suva back into the fold.
Australia's leading think tank has issued a paper calling on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to stop his hardline approach to the troubled Pacific nation and instead work to "build confidence" in Fiji to guide it back towards democracy.
The cold shoulder approach, in place since the military staged a coup in 2006 and cemented by repeated delays to hold a democratic election, simply hasn't worked, it states.
Australia should forge stronger diplomatic ties inside the nation and amend travel restrictions to apply only to key members of the military-led regime rather than all of those connected with it.
Professor Jenny Hayward-Jones, director of the centre's Melanesia program, said the regime led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama had proven itself resistant to pressure so attempts to force Fiji back into line will only drive it further from Australia's sphere of influence and into the arms of China.
"Australian diplomacy has failed its own test," Professor Hayward-Jones wrote.
"Australia set itself the objective of applying sufficient pressure on the Fiji regime to force Bainimarama to hold elections. It has manifestly failed."
Her approach, she argues, will give more certainty that Cdre Bainimarama will hold elections in 2014 and return the country to democracy.
Her words have been met with cheers from Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis, who has blogged that it was high-time Mr Rudd accepted his hardline approach has turned Australia into a "regional bully".
The government now had the "dawning realisation that isolating Fiji has not only been pathetically ineffectual but has been utterly counter-productive in giving the increasingly more assertive Chinese a stronger foothold on Australia's back door," Mr Davis wrote.
However, several of Australia's best known Fiji academics disagree, saying any such engagement is both narrow-minded and dangerous.
Dr Jon Fraenkel, a Melanesian specialist at Australian National University in Canberra, said the Lowy paper offered no analysis, alternatives or possible outcomes, just a "strategy of accommodation" with Cdre Bainimarama.
"This is proposing that we reason with him, that we engage with a range of carrots but we already know that this won't work," Dr Fraenkel said.
The Lowy Institute's fears about Chinese economic advance in the Pacific were mostly "scare-mongering" as most Chinese involvement was about advancing China's commercial interests, Dr Fraenkel said.
The brief appeared to be more about protecting Australia's long term investment rather than offering a way out of the longterm Fiji impasse, he said.
"It narrowly focused on the Fiji-Australia relationship rather than Bainimarama's refusal to engage with his own people."
Dr Fraenkel also said Lowy's focus on 2014 elections was ridiculous as Cdre Bainimarama himself had already admitted the election would exclude almost all opposition parties.
"There has been this endless fetish with an election which, by the regime's own admission, won't be free and fair. What on earth is the point then of urging repeatedly that this election occurs?"
Another Pacific expert at Australian National University, Professor Brij Lal, agreed with Dr Fraenkel that further engagement with Fiji was a dangerous option.
"Bainimarama needs to engage with his citizens about the future before he should be able to enjoy engagement from outside parties like Australia and New Zealand," Prof Lal said.
"Anything else is putting the cart before the horse."
If Australia was to enter into dialogue "we would be playing straight into his hand, not to mention effectively sanctioning the public emergency regulations, draconian decrees, press censorship and the 2006 coup itself. We simply can't do it."
May 12, 2011
Lowy Institute gets a beat-down from REAL Pacific experts
We are not the only one's poo-pooing the Lowy Institute's erroneous views.