Foreign Affairs is a million shades of grey

I was wading through the agreement establishing the ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area a few weeks ago – a little light reading for a Frog. Looks like New Zealand will be doing business with Burma (or Myanmar as the military dictators refer to Burma). Green MP Dr Kennedy Graham spoke about this in the House as we voted against this legislation along with the Maori Party.

The fact that New Zealand is doing business with a country ruled by one of the vilest regimes on earth is not however newsworthy – after all the overarching mantra of free trade can allow us to do business and glad hand anyone.

What is newsworthy apparently is if some in the Maori Party decide that after three years of New Zealand achieving little in Fiji with the diplomatic equivalent of a big stick – ‘hey lets go and see for ourselves and have a chat to our Pacific brethren’.

This approach of going to see what the situation is perhaps seeing if there is anyway of advancing the slow moving and jaded progress of Fijian democracy is causing many in the media to work themselves into a right old lather. I reckon they should chill out and perhaps take a few tips from ‘our Keith’.

A week or so back Keith was calling for the United Nation’s to stop using peacekeepers from Fiji, and he also supported Fiji being suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum. This is because Keith opposes military rulers  that censor the news and seem intent on dragging out the prospect of elections. However, he also supports Hone going to Fiji to talk to the political players – even the Big Man.

The consequences of not engaging could be pretty grim. A couple of week’s a blog war broke out (and no-one wins a blog war!) between No Right Turn and Gordon Campbell over the vexed issue of Fiji.

Gordon was saying that “our current diplomatic policy is only likely to push Bainimarama further into isolation, and further towards a closer alliance with China, thus providing China with a military and economic ally right on our doorstep.”

China isn’t exactly a paragon of democracy and there are no free and fair elections planned in China anytime soon, but for some reason (Free Trade perhaps?) our Prime Ministers such as Helen Clark and John Key love glad handing in Beijing.

So maybe Keith may have a wee mosey in the sun and see for himself what the situation on the ground is – he won’t be going to get a sun-tan or glad handing dictators but rather to make the best of a bad situation. He’s done “non-government” diplomacy trips before – to Sri Lanka (2003), West Papua (2005) and Tonga (2006). Keith’s philosophy is that every bit helps.

Foreign Affairs is a million shades of grey and you never win with just one approach.

8 Comments Posted

  1. You hit the nail on the head. My sister in law is a Kiwi and has been on close watch with this situation. Obviously Burma buddying up with China isn’t an optimum solution.

  2. I think much of the discussion is based on a false premise – certainly in our case – yet even the Australians and Americans, who buy into the ANZUS and Japan line vs China divide, agree with us on the Fiji policy.

    As I see it

    (from a debate on “Kiwipolitico” on the change in foreign aid and the Pacific).

    On the foreign policy side of it, China’s approach has been to secure resource supply to its economy. The Pacific is not of much importance in this except for Australia and to a lesser extent New Zealand.

    So one could take the view that their goal has so far been twofold – nuetralise Taiwan (which has some ties to Pacific colonisation) and otherwise not upset us or the Australians. If their relations with Taiwan improve, as they could well do so, our approach should be to welcome their economic development aid (which we cannot match) as neighbourliness from a fellow member of APEC and merely seek to be consulted about it.

    I tend to the view that their relations will improve.

    This will occur if Taiwan adopts a bi-partisan position on their relationship with China. This arising from the “mainland exile” party and the “local” nationalists agreeing (as the competitors for local representative government) to enjoy continued autonomy without stressing any policy of independence.

    China appears to be be adopting a carrot and stick approach to move them to that position of co-existence with China. China’s goal appears to be to have them operate as if they will one day be an autonomous region within China (as per Hong Kong) – and provided Taiwan accepts this their reward is the suggestion that their existing autonomy is not at risk.

    The concern for Taiwan will be over whether China will continue with this benevolence should the power balance continue to move in their direction – or whether Taiwan will have to start operating as if they already an autonomous region within China to maintain good relations (though one suspects China will reward such behaviour and this process would occur without too much trauma).

    I think the nationalists in Taiwan will choose to settle for a gradual process of increasing co-operation while retaining some of their historic autonomy – to the extent that later this century we will regard Hong Kong and Taiwan as both similarly part of and yet apart from the rest of China.

    I think it will occur quite smoothly. If so, it will nuetralise the more militant of the Chinese leadership and be better for all of us.

    Thus I think we should take a benevolent view of their behaviour in the Pacific and thus not push them into a hardline position when we probably do not need to.

    So we should see their policy as to secure resource supply to its economy and otherwise to nuetralise Taiwan thus to do so in a way not to upset us or the Australians (we are their resource suppliers in the region). In return we should take a benign view of their “intentions” (others Japan and the USA are the real containment, if that is what is actually required).

    Thus our approach should be to welcome their economic development aid (which we cannot match) as neighbourliness from a fellow member of APEC and merely seek to be consulted about it.

  3. SPC and Toad,

    The issue of China in the Pacific is relevant, and has been the subject of much discussion in the field of International Relations for quite few years now. Over the last couple of decades China has been trying to gain more influence in the Pacific. This has taken the form of increased aid, setting up embassies and so on. There are several reasons for this (I’ll go into them if anyone is interested).

    Now, from the point of view of the Pacific Islands, if your traditional neighbors do not support you for whatever reason, doesn’t it make sense to look towards those nations who do offer support? Of course one always has to ask what strings are attached, but its not as though aid from New Zealand and Australia came without strings either.

  4. I read that in 2003

    Mr Locke will travel north to the Tamil city of Jaffna. He will have further meetings there and then travel south overland to Colombo. Along the way he will talk with Tamil Tiger representatives,

    This, with hindsight, is interesting.
    Mr. Locke went to a city that had been ethnically cleansed (by the Tamil Tiger) of anyone not a Tamil, then talked in a vehicle with representatives of those same Tamil Tigers.
    The Tigers (or members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as they should properly be referred to,) are the terrorist group that developed the suicide bombers’ vest, were the first terrorist organisation to use Ram Bombing (to destroy the Bank of Ceylon – the equivalent of our Reserve Bank), assassinated two serving Sri Lankan Prime Ministers and one aspiring and past Indian Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi), fill their front lines with children aged 11-18 (with shaved heads so they can be identified if they try to run away), feel it is OK to drive whole town populations in front of them as they retreat from battle (in case there are land-mines the location of which they have forgotten) and use those populations as human shields in a No Fire Zone (while continuing to fire field-guns and tanks at both the Sri Lankan Army and Tamil non-combatants trying to escape.

    I worry that Keith got so close to such an organization, one which has been labelled as the most fearful terrorist group in the world by the UN and CIA. Hopefully promotion of such a group in Fiji and/or New Zealand is not on the agenda!

  5. The calls for democracy in Fiji are a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Surely we should get our own house in order first. How can we call ourselves democratic with the likes of canary man strutting is autocratic stuff along the corridors of power and deciding how local governments should be run without any deference to the people affected!!!!

  6. For my part, I also have no problem with Maori contact (they have a similar experience of colonialisation).

    And I concede to being a little uneasy about giving Fiji a hard time because we expect more of them than some others (it reminds me of how we – who the Americans expected more of – got a hard time for 20 years or so, when most of the known world and half their own ports also refused ship visits). After all Fiji is not unique in not being a democracy – Tonga was accepted for decades despite its lack of democracy.

    But the thing is – if we are to remain principled and consistent and in accord with others who have formed this policy in association with us, we cannot depart from it easily or unilaterally.

  7. SPC, there are situations where heavy-handed sanctions can achieve a desirable and democratic outcome. One was apartheid South Africa, where the vast majority of people were themselves calling for sanctions, and the sanctions that were eventually imposed played a large part in the downfall of the apartheid regime.

    I’m not sure Fiji is one of those situations though. I agree with you that the “Chinese bogeyman” shouldn’t be part of the discussion – foreign policy should be based on principle, not expediency. It is the sort of logic Gordon Campbell espouses here that led to travesties such as the Vietnam War and the Iraq invasion.

    But I’m not sure that heavy-handed sanctions is the answer for Fiji either. Maybe the sort of initiative frog is suggesting Keith Locke take here and Hone Harawira is proposing to take might assist in bringing Fiji back into the democratic fold better than Labour’s and National’s policy of isolating Fiji.

    I really don’t know, but it’s worth a try. The policies of both the former Labour and now National governments don’t seem to have made much progress in that direction.

  8. Gordon Campbell’s logic would justify alliance with military dictaroship because it kept the commies away.

    Anyone bringing the Chinese commie bogeyman into it (we have more to do with China than Fiji does) loses credibility on the issue. It’s just so American realpolitic.

    We free trade with China and Fiji, end of story.

    There are tests of membership – Commonwealth and South Pacific Forum, Fiji does not meet them.

    Fiji betrayed the Pacific way – the silencing of free speech and the intimidation of the people into silence as well is not something we should have an association with.

    If Fiji wants our help on the way back to democracy – all they have to do is ask. There is no evidence as yet that there is any more than lip service to democracy being restored.

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