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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 00:58 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 00:58 | SYDNEY

Fiji's brazen provocation

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COMMENTS

21 January 2010 17:20

In this post last week, I speculated on the motivations behind New Zealand’s first steps in a diplomatic rapprochement with Fiji. New Zealand Foreign Minister McCully is no doubt genuine about New Zealand's efforts to improve relations with Fiji, but is Fiji equally genuine?

Mr McCully probably expected that Fiji would act in good faith in these early stages of a newly positive relationship. At the bare minimum he could have expected that Fiji's interim foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, would forward the name of Fiji's nominee to take up the new Counselor position at the Fiji High Commission in Wellington through appropriate diplomatic channels.

But interim Prime Minister Bainimarama has dispensed with such niceties, announcing that his nominee for the position was Permanent Secretary for Information and Military Spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni. As a key member of Bainimarama's regime, Leweni is subject to a New Zealand travel ban. He has also been the public face and voice of the regime and become famous for his role as chief censor. 

The nomination and Bainimarama's public announcement of it is a deliberate provocation. 

If New Zealand declines to accept the nomination, as it rightly could, given Leweni is such a high profile associate of Bainimarama, Fiji will renege on the rapprochement. If New Zealand accepts Leweni in order to maintain forward movement in the relationship, Bainimarama will have scored a significant public relations victory and Wellington will have to endure another diplomatic irritant, in the form of the outspoken Leweni, on their doorstep.

New Zealand could respond by publicly nominating an equally difficult personality to the new New Zealand Counselor position – perhaps one of the three diplomats Fiji has already expelled. But that would be escalating the affair.

This will be a significant test of New Zealand diplomacy, one that I'm sure Canberra will be observing very closely.

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