Commodore Bainimarama has repeatedly said that there will be no turning back from the roadmap that has been set for the country to hold elections in 2014 after the reforms planned in the troubled nation’s political system are completed.
The fact that there is little that the Western world can do about it is beginning to dawn on its leaders after more than two years of a stubbornly belligerent stand that involved slapping a slew of sanctions aimed at crippling Fiji’s administration, which they undoubtedly hoped would bring it to its knees. This has simply not happened and that tack has all but come unstuck.
Responding to Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth, Murray McCully, New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has said there will not be any more sanctions from New Zealand’s side. There simply can’t be. It’s a sign that New Zealand and Australia have now realised that the isolationist strategy they have stuck to since early 2007 has not worked. In fact, it has only ended up hurting innocent Fiji citizens more than anyone else.
Despite suspending it, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma has said that the 53-member grouping will continue to engage with Fiji and is sending a delegation to Suva later this month.
Fiji is too be important to be trivialised with the insensitive approach that New Zealand and Australia have had toward it over the past two and a half years. It has always been the gateway to the South Pacific and will remain so. Any attempts to shift it to a neighbouring country like Samoa – which Samoa’s leadership has repeatedly sought – is wishful thinking and well nigh impossible for reasons of its inferior infrastructure, costs and sheer logistics, which New Zealand and Australia simply cannot afford.
Despite suspending it from its membership, the Pacific Forum is still headquartered in Fiji. This is akin to the United Nations, based in New York, suspending the United States from its membership. In the words of a senior Pacific Forum functionary, “The Forum needs Fiji far more than Fiji needs the Forum.”
Nature abhors a vacuum and the one created by New Zealand and Australia has been quickly filled by aggressively ambitious China. The Asian economic powerhouse has stepped up both its profile and investments in Fiji. As well as a huge new embassy, the Chinese are helping Fiji catch up with infrastructure investments that have received a setback. A new super luxury hotel with Venice-style waterways and gondolas is one of the bigger private sector investments that is coming up near Nadi.
The geopolitics of the Pacific has been in slow ferment for about two decades now with Asian powers like China, Taiwan and Japan playing increasingly important roles in its development. It will now begin to accelerate. And the West’s handling of the Fiji situation since early 2007 has already proved to be the catalyst.
Changes in the UN Law of the Sea has enabled Pacific Island countries to redraw their continental shelf boundaries to include several million additional square kilometres of open ocean to their exclusive economic zones (EEZ). This will vest them with rights to farm greater swathes of their waters and prospect larger areas of the ocean bed for minerals and oil, something that has already begun to happen – and no prizes for guessing which country is in the best position to win the lion’s share of those prospecting and mining contracts.
Though it puts up a brave face, so worried is the Western world of the changing geopolitics of the Pacific, which is the world’s last largely untapped resource-rich region, that a couple of months ago US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rather ingenuously said that the US was “not ceding” the Pacific to anyone.
Her use of the word “ceding” is interesting. One can only cede when one possesses something. It betrays the West’s – certainly the US’ – long held belief that the Pacific is its own backyard.
Nothing could be farther than the truth. And its attitude to Fiji has helped in no small way in crashing that belief.
i’s suspension from the Commonwealth on September 1 was a dead certainty. Its earlier suspension from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum didn’t deter it and it would have been naïve to think that the threat of this week’s suspension – it’s third from the Commonwealth since independence – would make the Fijian administration change its mind.