Monday 04 Jul 2022 | 18:53 | SYDNEY
Monday 04 Jul 2022 | 18:53 | SYDNEY

Fiji \'celebrates\' independence


Jenny Hayward-Jones


12 October 2010 17:16

Fiji celebrated 40 years of independence on 10 October, with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urging his fellow citizens to participate in the vision of a modern and just Fiji. 

Bainimarama came to the celebrations fresh from a charm offensive at the UN last month, where he gave a speech to the General Assembly worthy of a country fully engaged with the international community and a champion of the Pacific Islands region. An uninformed observer would not have guessed how Bainimarama had come to power — there was no mention of his military government, abrogation of the constitution, maintenance of the Public Emergency Regulation or even his promised 2014 elections.

The Fiji Government could have made much more of Bainimarama's efforts to impress on the world stage if it had coordinated it with domestic efforts. The arrest of Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, who was charged with unlawfully holding a meeting in Rakiraki, did the Fiji Government no credit. A government which seeks to 'modernise and liberalise' and introduce 'good, just and fair leadership and governance' should not be arresting people for holding meetings about Fiji's sugar industry.

Bainimarama rightly takes credit for implementing laws against domestic violence, laws to protect the welfare of children and providing assistance to school children. But the Fiji Government needs to do much more if it is to convince the international community that it can rebuild Fiji 'into a non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well governed, truly democratic nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity, peace and harmony.'

The US has opened a door to dialogue with Fiji (more on the re-engagement of the US in the Pacific to follow). With little encouraging rhetoric coming from Canberra at the moment, Suva could play a clever game by engaging more closely with Washington and ultimately putting more pressure on the Australian Government. President Obama's congratulatory message to the people of Fiji may have been pointedly directed at encouraging a return to democracy, but it also signaled that the US wants good relations with Fiji and is prepared to be creative with its policies.

Bainimarama might well think he can rely on China to be Fiji's saviour but the evidence, as my colleague Fergus Hanson's research can attest, shows China's generosity has limits.

Fiji's economy is based heavily on tourism (dependent on Australian and New Zealand travelers), sugar (dependent on currently suspended European Union support) and remittances (dependent on Fiji's expatriates resident in Australia, New Zealand and employed by US security companies and as UN peacekeepers). Fiji is also reliant on financial support from the IMF, World Bank and the ADB (where the US and Australia wield considerable influence). Fiji's top five export markets are Australia, the UK, US, New Zealand and Japan. 

Limited Chinese loans, aid projects that employ Chinese nationals and suggestions of arms procurement from China will not increase employment opportunities or reduce spiraling poverty (Ed. note: link fixed).

Fiji's national interests lie squarely with western hemisphere powers. Unless Bainimarama is confident China can service the full range of those interests, he needs to get on with making his diplomatic efforts work for the people of Fiji. Engaging seriously with an interested Washington would be a good start.

Photo by Flickr user sammie, used under a Creative Commons license.