July 17, 2013

Tarte: Polls to fortify Fiji’s foreign relations

July 16, 2013 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom

Associate Professor Sandra Tarte.
The 2014 elections will further consolidate Fiji’s relations with  new found friends in the international  community, says Associate Professor Sandra Tarte of the University of the South Pacific.
She said Fiji’s  diplomatic isolation post 2009 by some former close neighbours was good enough reason to seek out and maximise new opportunities.
Fiji has now established formal diplomatic ties with more than 120 countries and since 2010 has established five new embassies, including in Seoul and Abu Dhabi in 2012.
According to Associate Professor Tarte, Fiji joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 2011, which paved the way for closer ties with other NAM member countries including North Korea.
“At the 2012 NAM meeting in Tehran, a Memorandum of Understanding between North Korea and Fiji was signed and Fiji subsequently became the first Pacific island state to accredit an ambassador to Pyongyang.”
Associate Professor Tarte is the Director of the Politics and International Affairs Programme at the University of the South Pacific.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Political Science from the Melbourne University and PhD in East Asian Studies from the Australian National University.
She teaches international politics of Asia and the Pacific and regional diplomacy in the Pacific islands.
She has special interest in the Politics in Fiji, The politics of aid and International politics of the Pacific islands region and foreign policies of Pacific island states.
Following are excerpts from Professor Tarte’s views on how significant next year’s general election will be on Fiji’s foreign relations.
Significance of 2014 elections on Fiji’s relations with the international community
“Next year’s elections are extremely significant for Fiji’s relations with the international community. Their significance should not be under-estimated.
“There is a lot at stake – both for the incumbent government as well for its foreign partners. On the part of the government, commitments have been made to the international community to hold the first truly democratic elections in Fiji’s history.
“And for the international community, their engagement with the government has rested in part on acceptance of this undertaking; or is contingent on these elections going ahead,” Associate Professor Tarte said.
“It should be stated though that much has been achieved in Fiji’s international relations over the past six years.
She said the very proactive foreign policies of the current Government owe much to the circumstances they found themselves in, especially after the abrogation of the Constitution in May 2009.
“I am referring here to the suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum in particular. Fiji’s foreign policy post 2009 has had a tremendous impact on the Pacific island region – and on Pacific island diplomacy in the international arena.
“Whatever the outcome of the elections, it is hard to imagine a return to business as usual. 
I think Fiji has led the way in redefining how Pacific island states engage with each other; and in a sense this is a return to the early post-independence era when Fiji was a leading force in the creation of a new post-colonial regionalism.”
Expectation from the international community
Associate Professor Tarte says the international community, broadly speaking, expects the elections to be credible –free of fraud or manipulation of results.
“Some members of the international community tend to have a more hands off approach than others.
“But I think most of our friends and neighbors would like an election that returns Fiji to democratic rule and that reflects the will of the people.
“And all would like to see a stable and prosperous Fiji – which hopefully these elections will pave the way for.”
View on Fiji’s current relation with Australia and New Zealand
“I think we all know the state of play with Fiji’s relations with Australia and New Zealand.
“Things may not change dramatically until after the Fiji elections, but there may be gradual improvement in the meantime.”
She said it was hard to tell whether the recent change in leadership in Australia means any change in policy towards Fiji.
“Again, not much may change on that front until the Australian elections later this year.”
Transparency is vital for 2014
“This relates to the question of credibility referred to earlier.
“I think all our partners that have come together as part of the preparation for the elections next year would like to ensure that the elections are transparent and legitimate and are prepared to provide various kinds of support to ensure that.
“This includes technical and financial support, as well as election monitors,” Associate Professor Tarte said.
Views on Fiji’s new found friends such as  Russia, United Arab Emirates and Bolivia. Will this keep away previously close allies like Australia, NZ and the US?
“No, but these new relationships help to dilute the influence of our more long standing donors/ partners – and the extent to which they call the shots in the region.
“This is a more balanced situation than in the past, and it gives us more leverage and more room for maneouvre – both regionally and internationally. It is also in line with the changes going on at the broader regional and global levels,” she said.
“It should be noted that there is a bigger picture here. I am referring to the major transformations underway with the rise of new powers and new international  groups – what some term the ‘rise of the rest’; which is eroding the long standing dominance of the West.
“Fiji’s diplomatic isolation – especially post 2009 – gave us the motive to seek out and to maximise the new opportunities that the fluctuating global order provided..”

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