Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:21 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:21 | SYDNEY

Fiji: MSG throws down the gauntlet


Jenny Hayward-Jones


13 July 2009 12:35

The leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji), who met in Port Vila last Friday,have surprised some of their regional counterparts by supporting Fiji interim Prime Minister Bainimarama’s strategic framework for change in Fiji. 

Bainimarama has convinced PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua that his plan for Fiji, announced in a speech on 1 July, was credible and good for Fiji. The three leaders have promised to argue the case for Fiji’s engagement in the Pacific Islands Forum and its right to participate in regional trade and economic cooperation agreements at the upcoming Leader’s Summit in Cairns. 

It is a diplomatic triumph for Bainimarama.  

He faced further isolation from the region after the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Cook Islands and Niue criticised his plans for a return to democracy. But the support of the Melanesian countries and in particular the region’s elder statesman, Michael Somare, will give him a major boost. 

It is the stuff of nightmares for the Australian Government, which will host the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Summit in Cairns from 4 to 7 August. Canberra and many other regional capitals had hoped to focus discussion at the summit on the very serious challenges of the global economic crisis and climate change, as well as the commencement of PACER Plus regional trade negotiations. Having suspended Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum in May, there was reason to hope that Fiji’s absence in Cairns might allow the Forum to get on with substantive business.

Prime Minister Rudd will now have to employ his renowned diplomatic skills to ensure the summit is not dominated for the third year in a row by the problem of Fiji. Much more importantly, as host of the Summit and incoming Chair of the Forum, he has to ensure that division among the leaders on the question of Fiji does not deliver a mortal wound to the Forum itself. If the three MSG leaders, and in particular Sir Michael Somare, decide to push Fiji’s case against the wishes of other Forum members, the Summit in Cairns will be a major test of the Rudd Government’s much lauded positive relationship with the region.