August 17, 2012

The Australian (Letters): Naive about Fiji

From: The Australian August 17, 2012 12:00AM

THE commentary by Elke Larsen ("Normalisation shows isolating Fiji has failed", 15/8) shows nothing of the kind. What it does show is the reality that the US blindly continues to ignore the policy lessons of its long and inglorious record of snuggling up to dictators where it perceives its interest to be served.

Larsen's misconceptions and naive assumptions are too numerous to list but the reliance on a poll that even those in the junta take with a bucket of salt and the notion that the military has played a positive developmental role are especially disappointing.

More worrying is the apparent effect this view from Washington has had on Australian policy towards a dictatorship declared illegal by its own appeals court and which has reneged on every promise it has made to its own people.

It took Foreign Minister Bob Carr all of 24 hours to complete a U-turn on Fiji after declaring he saw no reason to ease sanctions. This, of course, would have had nothing to do with a State Department that has forgotten its ambassador's assessment of Frank Bainimarama as a bully with whom a psychiatrist would have a field day.

So what has changed? The answer is China, whose growing influence in the Pacific has the US worried - and rightly so. It has become Bainima-rama's best friend - or so he thinks - and the US wants to counter that by buddying up. So Australia had damn well better do the same.

But the question doesn't seem to have been asked - far less answered - in Canberra: how is Australia's interest served by caving in to a dictatorship that controls the media, restricts church gatherings, assaults dissenters, fingerprints all telephone owners and insists any new constitution will give the military immunity for its admitted crimes? Perhaps Carr could let us know.

Russell Hunter, former publisher, Fiji Sun, Brisbane, Qld

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