May 18, 2012
The Australian: Japan snubs Fijian leader Frank Bainimarama
BY: RICK WALLACE, TOKYO CORRESPONDENT From: The Australian May 18, 2012 12:00AM
FIJIAN strongman Frank Bainimarama has been rebuffed at his first major opportunity to rejoin the international community since announcing a series of reforms he says are aimed at restoring democracy.
The Fijian regime had been hoping that Commodore Bainimarama would be invited to the annual PALM forum of Pacific leaders in Japan this month on the back of its reform pledges.
And Japan had been keen to end the military leader's diplomatic isolation by inviting him to attend the event.
But at the last minute, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wrote to Commodore Bainimarama explaining that his Foreign Minister would be invited instead.
It is believed Japan was convinced after talks with Australia that not enough had been done about lifting draconian public-order regulations.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official told The Australian that Japan welcomed the promise of elections and constitutional consultation, but after "very, very in-depth consultations with Australia" decided to drop its push for the commodore's attendance.
"The public-order decree was (effectively) still in place and there's still a quite significant chilling effect on various groups including trade unions," he said.
Japan is keen to draw Fiji back into the international community to boost its own influence and that of its allies in a region where it is increasingly nervous about growing Chinese commercial and political activity.
Like the federal opposition, Japan is not convinced that the strict policy of sanctions and partial diplomatic isolation is working and wants to see more dialogue with the Fijian regime, which has been suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific nations are more reticent about recognising Commodore Bainimarama until there is clear evidence he intends a return to democracy.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who is visiting Tokyo for talks, welcomed Japan's decision not to invite Commodore Bainimarama. "Our view is that we maintain our position on Fiji until we have been persuaded that the process of constitutional consultation is thoroughly open," he said.
"There have been encouraging signs in Fiji but the continuing process of consultation ahout a new constitution has some distance to go. But there should be no weakening of our position until democratic norms have been reinstated."
Japan had hoped that by having Mr Noda write personally to Commodore Bainimarama it might head off any anger from the regime over the snub.
But its hopes were dashed, with the Fijian regime - which seized power in a 2006 coup - responding that Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola was "busy" with another international trip and it would not be sending anyone to PALM.
"We took it as a very negative sign and we are very unhappy about it," the Foreign Ministry official said.