Reshaping our foreign policy

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

 PROFESOR BIMAN PRASAD

 

A National Federation Party will pursue a straightforward, honest and principled foreign policy.

We will:

  • rebuild our relationships with Australia, New Zealand, our Pacific Island neighbours and those traditional partners that share democratic values and respect human rights
  • cut our spending on wasteful diplomatic missions in South America, Africa and the Middle East
  • reduce our dependence on countries that do not share democratic values and respect human rights
  • continue to offer peacekeeping as our contribution to a better and more peaceful world
  • examine our domestic and offshore fishing licensing and who we are trading our fisheries access to, with more transparency
  • support the people of West Papua in their fight for self-rule
  • make Fiji’s foreign policy directions and priorities more transparent for taxpayers so that there are no surprises about what we are pursuing in the national interest.

The current Fiji government’s foreign policy is mostly one of self-delusion and wasted opportunities. The diplomatic world is a good place for people like our leaders, who cannot handle criticism. The whole point of diplomacy is to get along with people and not offend them. So our current leaders are very comfortable in a space where flattery, politeness and expensive hospitality are common currency.

As a result our leaders believe that the whole world is watching them as they globe-trot across the world collecting their allowances. A selfie with Arnold Schwarzenegger may be fun, but it lasts five minutes. Then the rest of the world gets on with life and gets back to its own problems while our leaders wait for the pictures to appear in the Fiji Sun.

Not about egos but needs

Foreign policy is not about boosting the egos of our leaders. It is about using trade and diplomacy to improve the needs of our people at home.  It is also about showing the world that we are principled people who believe in our common humanity and democratic values.

The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have not forgotten that they were targeted by Australian and New Zealand sanctions after the 2006 coup. But their personal resentment should not drive Fiji’s foreign policy.  They represent the people of Fiji, not their own egos.

New Zealand was one of the biggest contributors to relief work after Cyclone Winston. Their armed forces came in quickly and delivered millions of dollars’ worth of aid. They stayed for months working on repairs and rehabilitation.  A few months later, when the New Zealand Prime Minister visited Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama delivered him an angry lecture.  It was a moment of national embarrassment.

We will rebuild our diplomatic relationships with Australia and New Zealand. They remain our biggest source of tourists, foreign investment and development assistance. Businesses in these two countries often channel investment from further afield. We need to align our investment, tax and trade laws to make investment from those countries easier. On the World Bank Ease of Starting a Business Index, Fiji ranks at 160th in the world. New Zealand ranks at No 1. So help in improving our investment laws is right next door. We will not be afraid to ask for help.

This government has ignored and looked down on nearby Pacific Island countries for 12 years. It considers them unimportant. But these are our close neighbours, with whom we share many historical and cultural ties. For all of his talk of climate change, Voreqe Bainimarama has never visited Kiribati and Tuvalu to highlight their problems and seek help for them. We will use our diplomatic resources and connections to give real support to countries affected by climate change. We will not just fly around the world talking about it.

Fiasco

Fiji now owes over $500 million to China which amounts to be about forty percent of all our external debt.  There is no sign of this indebtedness slowing down. It will only increase. Our government likes working with China. This is because China does not criticise the government’s human rights record and lack of democracy. It does not ask hard questions about the environment. China never asks our government embarrassing questions.

China is a big country that knows what it is doing.  Fiji is a small country whose government does not. All over the world, small developing countries are coming under increasing Chinese influence and indebtedness. Sri Lanka – not a small country – has recently had to hand over a strategic port facility to China to avoid its debt being called up. Imagine how easy it will be to do the same to Fiji.

A few months ago, we had a bizarre experience. Chinese police flew into Fiji, rounded up 77 Chinese citizens, detained them in Nadi and then flew them out on a plane, hooded and handcuffed, while Fiji police stood by and did nothing. It was as if Fiji was now a colony of China. Our own government was too afraid to ask any questions about why these people were being detained and if their human rights were respected.  So now we know – whatever the Chinese government says, Fiji will do what it is told. Under a NFP government, that will never happen. This is our country, not China’s. Anyone who is in Fiji is entitled to the protection of law and their basic rights, because that is what we all believe in.

Now we have the Grace Road fiasco. A religious cult has been able to set itself up in Fiji and set up dozens of small businesses – businesses that Fiji people could own and run – right under the government’s nose.  Their leader’s arrest in Korea has made world news and turned Fiji into a laughing stock. Fiji has a diplomatic mission in Korea. It seems to have done nothing. The government stands by and says “we are not affected”. Is this because the Grace Road cult also has the contract to renovate the Prime Minister’s residence in Suva?

Finally we have the disgraceful situation in West Papua. If the Fiji government had any real influence in the world, it would be drawing this situation to the world’s attention. Indigenous people in Fiji’s own region are colonised, brutalised and deprived of their basic human rights.

This is a problem in our region. It is therefore our problem and we need to be courageous about solving it. An NFP government will take this problem to the world and demand that it be fixed. It will give support to the West Papua independence movement and help it to organise its own diplomatic campaign.

Expensive silence

Smaller countries than us – Vanuatu and Solomon Islands – have the courage to stand up and be counted, and to speak up for Melanesian people in West Papua. Fiji’s silence, by contrast, is shameful. Our peacekeepers around the world show that Fiji people have courage, commitment and loyalty. On the West Papua issue, the Fiji government shows none of these things.

On peacekeeping, we know that Fiji is good at this. We have had 40 years’ experience doing it. The world is always short of peacekeeping soldiers. This is something where we know we can be useful and contribute usefully to the world. One good peacekeeping soldier is probably worth 10 times more to Fiji’s international reputation than a globetrotting politician.

We maintain expensive diplomatic missions in countries where we have few diplomatic or trade connections and where it makes no sense. It costs millions of dollars to rent office and home properties, staff foreign missions and fly diplomats around the world.  These are relationships that are better managed directly and less expensively from Fiji.  An NFP government will close our missions in Brazil, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. We will critically examine the effectiveness of our other foreign missions. We will spend the cost savings on housing, education and health at home.

An NFP government will focus on cost-effectiveness and practicality in our foreign policy, not grand and empty gestures and giving easily-forgotten speeches in world capitals.  Foreign policy should bring meaningful benefits to Fiji citizens. It should not be just a series of photo opportunities. on twitter. More details of our foreign policy and trade initiatives will be included in our manifesto.