Foreign Affairs: Pacific Leaders Consider Ejecting Fiji As Forum Chair
By Selwyn Manning – Scoop co-editor
Scoop News: A discussion is taking place between Pacific Islands leaders about whether to eject Fiji from its role as Pacific Islands Forum chair. Fiji hosted the 2006 Pacific Islands Forum in Nadi, Fiji prior to being overthrown by a military coup. (see Scoop full coverage of the Fiji coup.) There, the elected Fiji government acquired the chair role in advancing the regional body's agenda.
Agreed to plans including: a review of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) cannot proceed until a solution to Fiji's chairing role in the Pacific Islands Forum is resolved.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said in reply to Scoop Media questions, the most "pressing issue" is resolving the question over Fiji's responsibilities and its role for the "advancement of the regional agenda" for the coming year.
While she did not rule out Fiji being suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum, she said the move would be unprecedented in the history of the Forum.
Helen Clark said: "The question of whether Fiji might be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum would be a matter for the collective decision of Forum Leaders. The question of Fiji's retention of the Forum chair is the more pressing issue given the responsibilities that this role entails for the advancement of the regional agenda for the coming year. This issue is under active discussion amongst Forum members."
Pacific Forum deputy-secretary general, Iosefa Maiava, has said the Pacific Forum's previous chair, Papua New Guinea's Sir Michael Somare, is tipped to take over.
Helen Clark said: "Since Fiji is a regional leader however, its domestic preoccupations can be expected to have an impact, for example, on Fiji's involvement in the RAMSI review, where it was to have played a leadership role, and more generally in terms of its capacity to play a leadership role on regional policy initiatives. In practical terms the Forum would need to compensate for this, for example, by relying on the previous and incoming chairs to bridge this gap," Helen Clark said.
For the past three years, the Solomon Islands has proved vital as a barrier against unrest spreading across from Melanesia and into the wider Pacific – but political and riotous unrest in Tonga and a bloodless military coup in Fiji have created a concerning oscillation of instability to what the Americans now refer to as 'The Pacific: the arc of uncertainty'.
Until November, that arc of uncertainty was contained largely to Melanesia - which spans from Papua New Guinea, Bourgainville, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and across to Fiji – and to French Polynesia.
Melanesia provides an historic corridor, where for thousands of years its peoples explored and moved among each other, and is a gateway to the mostly peaceful islands of Polynesia.
Melanesia to Polynesia.
But today, that corridor offers transit to a host of problems: HIV infection born within South East Asia has now infected the foundation of Papua New Guinea's population. It is now at epidemic proportions. (see... Scoop Investigation: Time Runs Out On South Pacific HIV/AIDS Crisis)
HIV infection has spread across into the Solomon Islands, and also to Fiji. Tuvalu's peoples are threatened with eventual extinction should current rates of HIV infection continue unabated within its small population.
How the HIV epidemic has been transmitted is complex. What is simple is, that without a regionalized and co-ordinated plan (for example as was decided at the Pacific Forum leaders' summit) HIV infection will continue to run rampant throughout Melanesia and needlessly, potentially infect millions of people throughout Polynesia.
That corridor - that arc of uncertainty is now unstable. It is also a transit lane for small arms trading by illegal networks, in some cases assisted by corrupt officials. Small arms proliferation, once contained to Melanesia, is now becoming an identifiable menace in Polynesia – as is drug trafficking.
For example, if you wish to, you can acquire handguns and ammunition not only in the back streets of Port Moresby, but now also in the towns and villages of Fiji's Viti Levu, Tonga's Tongatapu, Samoa's Upolu.
Scoop Media Image: Nadi, Fiji.
While the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has, since April, contained outbreaks of violence in and around Honiara, that security barrier provided by Pacific nations (including Fiji and Tonga) has not prevented, by way of example, unrest breaking out in the wider Pacific.
It could be argued that the deportation policies advanced by New Zealand, Australia, and the United States – expelling Pacific Islands criminals, returning them to their Island of origin - has given rise to a new element of criminals within the Pacific.
Take Tonga as an example: ex-pat Tongans have been deported from US and Australasian jails and dumped back in Tonga. There, the authorities are not equipped to deal with experienced criminal minds.
A gang calling themselves the deportees, has loosely formed into a semi-organised troup of criminals who exploit their drug dealing connections in LA, Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland. Locals around Nuku'Alofa allege the Deportees import and traffick methamphetamine and a host of other drugs to Tonga's youths.
Previously, Tonga's youths were spared this sort of surge. There's a generational crisis in Tonga, that's intermixed with aspirations of freedom from constitutional monarchist rule.
Scoop Media image: Destruction in Nuku'Alofa.
During the November riots that destroyed Nuku'Alofa, the Deportees - and a sub-group of youths calling itself the Bush Boys - were used as a front-assault attack group.
The uprising was organized, the modus operandi of the attacks common on Black Thursday, and more so during the Friday attacks that targeted businesses, not aligned to pro-democracy aspirations located outside of the Nuku'Alofa CBD.
Neither New Zealand nor Australia anticipated the seriousness of Pacific instability rising to this level. Scoop Media asked the New Zealand high commissioner to Tonga, Dr Michael McBryde: did he see the Nuku'Alofa crisis looming and if not why not? He replied: "It is a good question" and one all governments that have a stake in Tonga are asking themselves.
The answer prompts one to question the effectiveness of New Zealand's (and Australia's) Pacific intelligence networks.
At the end of the day, environmental catastrophe, HIV infection, and terrors not previously known of in these waters will breed without restraint when a state of constitutional fragility is allowed to exist. Again, at the end of the day, this Pacific Arc Of Instability involves us all. Suddenly, that abstract concept of Good Governance draws to it relevance previously disrespected by many.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Government has recommitted its deployment to RAMSI.
That recommitment sends a signal out with ever increasing importance. The state of the Pacific, from a security point of view, is now extremely fragile. RAMSI is a living and breathing example of Pacific/Melanesian solidarity – the region acting as one to enforce stability – a most essential foundation to progress.
SCOOP MEDIA QUESTIONS TO HELEN CLARK – RE: FIJI'S PARTICIPATION IN PACIFIC FORUM AGENDA
SCOOP MEDIA: Q1 - Has there been or is there consideration for suspending Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum while a self-appointed military government, or an interim government, remains in power?
HELEN CLARK: "Such a move would be unprecedented in the history of the Forum. The question of whether Fiji might be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum would be a matter for the collective decision of Forum Leaders. The question of Fiji's retention of the Forum chair is the more pressing issue given the responsibilities that this role entails for the advancement of the regional agenda for the coming year. This issue is under active discussion amongst Forum members."
SCOOP MEDIA: Q2 - What changes are now necessary regarding the short-term future of the Pacific Islands Forum's administrative base location?
HELEN CLARK: "The question of relocating the Forum's administrative base location is not under consideration at this time. Subject to the security situation there is no reason why the regional agencies based in Suva should not continue to operate from there in a practical sense as they do so independently of Fiji government functions."
SCOOP MEDIA: Q3 - How will implementation of agreed to points from the 2006 PIF - such as the RAMSI review (the troika meetings), energy, ICT, transportation for smaller states, RIF etc - take place considering Fiji, as host nation, no longer has a democratically elected government in which to participate and chair Forum meetings?
HELEN CLARK: "Many regional activities will be able to carry on despite Fiji's situation since they will be managed out of regional organisations."
HELEN CLARK: "Since Fiji is a regional leader however, its domestic preoccupations can be expected to have an impact, for example, on Fiji's involvement in the RAMSI review, where it was to have played a leadership role, and more generally in terms of its capacity to play a leadership role on regional policy initiatives. In practical terms the Forum would need to compensate for this, for example, by relying on the previous and incoming chairs to bridge this gap."
SCOOP MEDIA: Q4 - How can the PIF's move to consolidate itself as a regionalised body be progressed when one of its more significant state governments (Fiji) has been overthrown by way of military coup?
HELEN CLARK: "Upheavals in the Pacific are not new. Strengthened regionalism has itself arisen partly as a way of responding to the instability of recent years in the region. Complex situations, such as that in Fiji, underline the importance of regional approaches and have in the past contributed to the development of more robust regional responses. The situation in Fiji does impact on the Forum, but regionalism in the Pacific is a very long-term endeavour which aims to address more effectively broad issues of security, sustainable development, economic growth, and governance."
SCOOP MEDIA: Q5 - What policy advice originating from the DPMC's Domestic and External Security Group is being implemented regarding the situation in Fiji - with particular interest to New Zealand's role in progressing stability in the region, and also strategically moving to advance restoration of democracy in Fiji?
HELEN CLARK: "Policy advice on Pacific issues comes from a variety of agencies and is coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The NZ Government has responded to the evolving situation in Fiji firstly by playing a role in preventive diplomacy by inviting Mr Qarase and Mr Bainimarama to participate in crisis talks in New Zealand; in responding to the immediate crisis by imposing wide ranging sanctions; and working with the Forum and Commonwealth to support a restoration of democracy as soon as possible. Much will depend on the evolution of political and other discussions taking place internally in Fiji."