Robin Nair is Hon Director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs, University of Fiji, and formerly a Fijian diplomat (1976-1980) and subsequently and an Australian diplomat (1985-2007). He responds to Graeme Dobell's post ('Australia outplays Fiji's Supremo'):
(Fijian Foreign Minister) Ratu Inoke had shown me the letter that Prime Minister (Frank Bainimarama) had written to his Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) counterparts about the suggestion being made for him not to Chair the MSG Meeting. Bainimarama had written a very measured, sensitive and appropriate reply to his MSG colleagues and had sent his Foreign Minister to deliver the letter to leaders personally. I was most impressed with the letter. I don't know who drafted it.
The interference by Australia and New Zealand is not acceptable. How much beating do they want to do? This has become akin to punishment by stoning. I think Australia and New Zealand are frustrated by Bainimarama's success in keeping power and slowly getting popular support of the people in spite of their interference in every detail. This type of interference is unprecedented.
Fiji was genuine in inviting others and I know from Ratu Inoke that they never intended to undermine the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) but to use the occasion to get the MSG-plus to listen to Fiji's real story beyond the rhetoric of the vague arguments about democracy and to note progress being made in Fiji, away from the over-bearing presence of Australia and New Zealand. Fiji wants to return to PIF. It has no intention of breaking PIF. Fiji needs friends like any other country, be it a democracy or not.
I am disappointed with the expulsion of Sarah but not surprised at Bainimarama's frustrations. Australia and New Zealand have used every ammunition they have in their armory to beat Fiji down and what armory does Bainimarama have to defend his little country except perhaps expelling diplomats? He has to show some retaliation at the behavior and bullying by Australia and New Zealand.
This type of cornering a military man will lead Fiji in withdrawing now from the PIF and even the Commonwealth. This will be a pity. If Fiji was to formally withdraw from PIF with this kind of bullying, it will be a sad day for the PIF, especially for the Pacific Island countries (PICs). I think it will be the first nail in the coffin for the PIF and Australia and New Zealand will have to take responsibility.
Incidentally, the MSG Meeting in New Caledonia was chaired by the Kanak Party. How representative were they of the people of New Caledonia?
Australia and New Zealand are ignoring the developments on the ground in Fiji. Bainimarama now has popular support support amongst Fijians and Indo-Fijians. Much reform is underway to the satisfaction of the IMF, reforms ignored by race politics of yester years.
Although the Prime Minister of Vanuatu has taken this action, it is wrong and naïve for anyone to assume that the PM was making a principled call; he is most uncomfortable at having to take this action against a fellow Melanesian country at the behest of Australia and New Zealand. There is no doubt. I know the PICs. It is no time to gloat but a sad day for the Melanesians.