Fiji Visit to Expand Russian Diplomacy Into Pacific

Updated January 30, 2012 10:29:27

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, makes his first visit to Fiji this week… he arrives on Wednesday.

Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Minister says the visit is an example of “Fiji’s work to diversify its global relationships and strengthen” its “economy”.

But others fear its part of Russia’s plan to increase its “cheque book” diplomacy in the Pacific.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Dr Stephen Hoadley, foreign policy specialist, University of Auckland

HOADLEY: In my view it certainly is a case of not necessarily chequebook diplomacy, but of expanding Russian influence, not only in the South Pacific but right around the world. Certainly since the low point at the end of the cold war nationalist leaders led by the prime minister, president, of course, Putin have emphasised that Russiais back, Russiawill play a larger role and we’re seeing the impact of that in our part of the world now.

COUTTS: What can we expect from this point on with Russia’s influence across the Pacific?

HOADLEY: Well last year, there was an accusation made during the World Rugby Cup here in Auckland by the Georgian Foreign Minister and Prime Minister both of whom visited that Russia was in fact paying large amounts of aid, giving large amounts of aid to countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati and Vanuatu in return for recognition of the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These are recognised by only five countries in the world, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and now Vanuatu and Kiribati and Tuvalu. Vanuatu later pulled back from this recognition, but your parliamentary secretary did openly accuse the Russians of using chequebook diplomacy the way China and Taiwan have done in the South Pacific to secure diplomatic recognition.

COUTTS: And Dr. Hoadley, you mentioned large amounts of aid. How much money are we talking about?

HOADLEY: The figure mooted last October or so was 50 million dollars for Tuvalu. Specific figures have not been muted for the other countries, for Kiribati for example and we don’t know what exactly what happened in Vanuatu that first of all recognised the breakaway provinces and then rescinded this. So we don’t exactly know. In fact that is the issue that your Foreign Minister, Mr. Rudd and my Foreign Minister, Mr. McCully, will be raising with Lavorov, that is transparency. We’d simply like to know what the Russians are doing, we’d like to know what the figures of aid are, we’d like to coordinate our aid with their aid if its legitimate, because we’re all working towards the betterment of the Pacific peoples. But with the lack of transparency, the very suspicions that you raised in the beginning of your commentary will continue and this is not good for diplomacy.

COUTTS: You’ve mentioned already that there will be strings attached, including I guess votes for the Security Council and support there?

HOADLEY: Yes certainly, that’s what the Russians are. This is what the Chinese have done very openly. They’ve tried to gain support. Remember that the Russians and Chinese are very reluctant to impose sanctions on Syria, for example, or on Iran, for example, and it is not only in the Security Council, but in the General Assembly that these two countries are very reluctant to participate in the Western urge towards greater human rights and more democracy in the world. They’ll be using their allies to slow down this movement and to restrict the West’s initiatives.

Now New Zealand is actually caught in a kind of dilemma, because we’re in the midst of a very important trade negotiation to secure a free trade deal with the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Khazakstan. So Murray McCully, our Foreign Minister, will be a little bit cautious. I’m sure he’ll raise the question of what the Russians are doing in Fiji, but he’ll raise it in a fairly polite way, because there are three rounds of negotiations and the possibility of signing this very first deal for the Russian led customs union next year are quite high and McCully is not going to spoil this negotiation over the issue of Fiji, about which we certainly don’t know the details yet. So we have to wait to see what is actually happening in Fiji before we can make any accusations.

COUTTS: Alright. Is there likely to be friction as Russia asserts its influence across the Pacific with China? Will there be competition between the two to get the influence in the Pacific?

HOADLEY: That’s a very interesting point Geraldine, because the Russians and the Chinese have had a shooting war in the past over border disputes when Russia was the Soviet Union and China’s in rivalry with Taiwan, although that’s fairly friendly rivalry at the moment, because of the leadership on both sides are more cooperative, but it is possible. And this is the nightmare scenario for New Zealand and Australia probably for the United States and France also. But the other two major powers in the South Pacific that the rivalry between great powers and who knows Indonesia may come into the picture. The Arab countries have sent delegations and offered aid, that was based in the Gulf Co-operation Council states for example. This kind of rivalry can lead to diplomatic friction and possibly to dividing the South Pacific into spheres of influence the way during the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union attracted satellites and allies in rivalry. So we would not like to see this happen. We want the South Pacific to work through the Pacific Islands Forum, we want them to continue to respect their traditional partners, Australia and New Zealand, again the United States and France and we all work together. New entrants muddy the water, new entrants raise questions and in Russia, what is Russia doing so far from home? So these are some of the questions I hope that Murray McCully and Kevin Rudd will be asking Mr Lavrov when they meet in the next couple of days.

COUTTS: Well Dr. Hoadley, you’ve already said there’s a watch in brief, particularly when it comes to Fiji and Lavrov’s visit to Fiji. But does that put Fiji in the box seat and if so, what will they be demanding or asking for?

HOADLEY: WellFiji simply wants diversification. They’re a little bit miffed that Australia and New Zealand have taken the lead in sanctioning them and making sure that Fiji was expelled from the Pacific Island Forum and from the Commonwealth or at least suspended in both cases, because of its retreat from democracy. And what the Fijians want is a lot of partners away fromAustralia andNew Zealand and they’ve cultivatedChina, for example. Bainimarama’s made several visits, VIP visits to Beijing and Beijing is very happily patronised Fiji with some hidden glee that the old alliances, the old Commonwealth, the old dominance of Australia and New Zealand in the South Pacific is weakening and Fiji is playing right into this urge diversifying with a number of other countries and attempting to show the world that Fiji doesn’t need New Zealand and Australia. It can live with the sanctions and it will run its political system just the way it wants and can still maintain a vigorous international partnership. So Fijian leadership is certainly very pleased about this visit by Lavrov and will no doubt be very hospitable to him.

Fiji visit to expand Russian diplomacy into Pacific

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