The pampered diplomats of the foreign affairs establishments in Australia and New Zealand had seventy-seven reasons to choke on their cafe lattes at the weekend as the news came through of yet another diplomatic coup for Fiji. Well seventy-eight reasons, actually. Because Fiji had just been elected chair of the international grouping known as the G77 plus China, that links the world’s developing countries and the world’s most populous nation in a powerful bloc.
When it takes the top chair from Algeria next year, Fiji will sit at the apex of the largest intergovernmental organisation at the United Nations. In the five decades since the G77 was established in 1964 by 77 developing countries, its membership has grown to 132 member states across the globe. It’s clearly one of the hazards of choosing a number for a name that it pretty quickly doesn’t reflect the true state of the membership. But no matter. G77 plus China it is and there’s no doubting its importance.
Fiji was nominated by the Asia-Pacific Group of the United Nations, which, strangely, doesn’t include Australia and New Zealand. They belong to the Europeans and Others Group, an anomaly that carries the unfortunate implication that these historical European outposts in the region are outsiders. Doubly unfortunate for Canberra and Wellington is that Fiji is so well regarded in the Asia Pacific that the other member countries have seen fit to thrust it forward for an even bigger role as chair of the G77. The importance of the honour that this entails cannot be overestimated.
Australia and NZ are fond of portraying Fiji as a pariah nation because of the Bainimarama takeover in 2006. And they’ve done everything possible – using those forums where they do have clout – to punish Fiji and thwart its development. They’ve strong-armed its neighbours into excluding it from the Pacific Forum, hitherto the most important regional body. And they’ve strong-armed the Commonwealth into continuing its suspension of Fiji. Never mind that a new constitution is being formulated and nigh on half a million people have now formally registered to vote in the scheduled election in 2014. As far as Australia and NZ are concerned, Fiji hasn’t done enough to demonstrate that it really does plan to restore democratic rule. No matter that the election is now less than two years away and even the existing main parties aren’t ready to go to the polls. We have to hold one now – or as soon as possible – just because the big boys say so.
As the months pass, Australia and NZ don’t seem to have any self awareness at all that their continuing intransigence appears more and more petulant and ridiculous. We didn’t do as they told us so we will stay in the naughty corner wearing our pariah hat Well, to use a colourful Aussie expression, the ANZAC “cobbers” can bugger off. Fiji doesn’t give a hoot what they think any longer. Because most other nations in the world have come to understand the racial and political challenges that brought about the events of 2006. And they’re willing not only to treat us with respect as we work out our problems in our own time but in the case of the G77, have given us the honour of placing us at the top of the table.
As the Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, aptly put it, we accept the nomination as chair with deep humility and gratitude and will spare no effort to discharge our responsibilities with honour and integrity. We are not a viavialevu nation like our crass big brother neighbours and know how to behave on the world stage. We are “friends to all” and try to serve the international community with a disproportionately large contribution given our relatively small size. Our dedication to United Nations peacekeeping is especially valued, providing troops to safeguard the interests of ordinary people in some of the most troubled places on earth. The Aussies and Kiwis tried to get the UN to punish Fiji by rejecting its peacekeepers. But the ANZAC “cobbers” wound up with egg on their faces when the world body rightly decided that keeping the peace was more important than some petty vendetta in the South Seas.
When Fiji takes the G77 chair next year, it will also be a proud moment for other island members of the UN body we were primarily instrumental in forging – the Pacific Small Island Developing States. Never in the 48 year history of the G77 has one of the PSIDS nations taken the top seat. So while we might be regarded as pariahs in Canberra and Wellington, 132 other countries beg to differ. They see Fiji as a valued member of the community of nations sincerely trying to work through its racial and political difficulties.
It’s high time for Australia and NZ to get a grip. Why have they so persistently failed to see the bleeding obvious in Fiji, the racism and corruption that was so entrenched that only radical surgery could eliminate it? Partly because they got hung up on the legal niceties imposed by a clutch of Sydney barristers sitting as the Fiji Court of Appeal. Partly because they chose to side with a vocal local minority who protest that their human rights have been violated even as they ignore the violation of the rights of 40 per cent of the country.
It all adds up to a terrible injustice and a mistake of historical proportions. The ANZAC “cobbers” have cut off their noses to spite their faces by driving Fiji into the arms of China and other, more sympathetic countries. And for what? To display their impotence for the entire world to see. For all their bluster, sanctions and travel bans, they have not been able to alter Fiji’s behaviour one iota. Whether Canberra and Wellington like or not, a more equal society is being forged in Fiji. And it says a lot about their arrogance and hubris that the rest of the world can see it and they can’t.