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New Zealand’s ‘Realpolitik’ response to Fiji

New Zealand’s ‘Realpolitik’ response to Fiji


By David G. Miller

The response by New Zealand to the latest coup in Fiji has been remarkably strident and tough. The Prime Minister and senior government officials were certainly not mixing their words in the weeks leading up to the military takeover and they have backed up these statements with a range of sanctions including commercial, military, travel and sporting bans. Coups of any nature cannot be condoned or allowed to occur without a response and punishment and New Zealand, and the international community, had no choice on this issue. However, the question is, should New Zealand treat a non-democratic Fiji differently and more harshly to other totalitarian countries that it deals with around the world?

Not only has the Government suspended the usual military and governmental ties but it has imposed travel restrictions on Fijians entering New Zealand for work. It is ironic that our rugby and sporting ties have not been fully entered into the mix which shows that if you really want to send a strong message in these times you must get your priorities right. However, there is no denying the impact of these sanctions and those of other countries will have on the Fijian economy, and if pressure can be brought to bear, then there is hope that Fiji will return to democracy.

Fiji is not the only non-democratic country that New Zealand maintains relations with. After all, the Government is hastily trying to arrange a free trade deal with China, whose government is not renowned for putting out the ballot boxes and we have growing ties with other Asian, Middle Eastern and South American countries whose ideas of democracy differ somewhat from ours. Even Vladimir Putin’s Russia is accused of becoming totalitarian the longer he continues in office yet our Government does not suddenly start announcing sanctions and speaking out against the Kremlin. Nor does it desist from ties with Pakistan which is under the rule of General Musharraf who is of course a solid ally in the war on terror.

For the time being, Fiji has entered this bloc of nations. The actions of the military in Suva should not be condoned or overlooked in any way but why is it being treated by New Zealand and other nations in a manner which similar style governments are not?

The answer is because it can be treated in this manner. Unfortunately for Fiji, its importance to countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the US is of such low standing economically that our governments can afford to throw their weight around and be seen to be proactive in fighting for democracy yet resting assured that there will be no consequences felt back here. Those who make a stand against the visits of any Chinese dignitaries to this country are surrounded by police and herded away as not to be seen and the same would be true if the Pakistan or Russian presidents visited. The consequences of New Zealand allowing protests against the leaders of such nations and offering a voice against their lack of democracy and human rights violations would be seriously damaging to our economy and the Government knows it but Fiji does not have that impact. Plus Commodore Bainimarama had the audacity to launch his coup in an area that New Zealand considers to be its own backyard.

The coup in Fiji left the New Zealand government with no option but to respond with sanctions and a suspension of ties. To have failed to have done so would have said to all nations, large and small, that New Zealand will stand back when democracy is overthrown at end of a gun and that peoples living under these regimes will be left on their own without support. However, the point here is that if a disregard for democratic rights in Fiji is to be punished and denounced loudly; will New Zealand address the stance it takes with other non-democratic states? Or it to be a case of if you can do more damage to us than we can to you, be assured that we will keep quiet and stick to realpolitik?

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David G. Miller is a freelance writer based in Christchurch

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