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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 12:26 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 12:26 | SYDNEY

Fiji: New Zealand quick off the mark

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13 January 2010 08:32

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully has moved quickly in the new year to achieve a minor breakthrough in Fiji. While most of Oceania takes its annual January break, New Zealand and Fiji have agreed to improve their very poor diplomatic relations. McCully met with his Fijian counterpart and they agreed on expanded diplomatic representation in both capitals.

In this post only a few weeks ago, I wrote that Commodore Bainimarama was impervious to influence beyond his inner circle. Murray McCully's actions made me reconsider my assessment. Could it be that New Zealand's policy is diverging from Australian policy and that New Zealand's engagement with Fiji will succeed where Australia's isolation has not?

The theory that New Zealand has a more sympathetic approach to the Pacific Islands region has long resonated with critics of Australia, particularly during the Howard era, but in terms of policy towards Fiji, it is difficult to demonstrate that New Zealand has been more friendly. 

In fact, the reverse is true. New Zealand's management of its relations with Fiji has seen the expulsion of three New Zealand heads of mission since the 2006 coup, whereas Australian High Commissioner James Batley was able to ride out the storm until November last year. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was much more strident in her public criticism of Fiji's interim Government than either of her Australian counterparts. And Murray McCully was very influential in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group's efforts to suspend Fiji from the Commonwealth last year.

Mr McCully has put paid to any speculation that New Zealand was diverging from Australia, asserting that New Zealand was working closely with Australia and would not be getting ahead of Canberra in deliberations about further improvements in diplomatic relations with Suva.

So perhaps New Zealand's move was motivated by a concern that its High Commission in Suva was poorly staffed to service the consular needs of ever-increasing numbers of New Zealand visitors to Fiji, rather than a desire to re-engage on issues of democracy or the like. New Zealand still has a responsibility to help its citizens when they get into strife in Fiji, even if the governments of both countries are at loggerheads. 

Whatever the motivation, ministerial contact is a good start to the year. Let's hope it leads to more progress in Fiji.

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