An Opportunity To Build Relations Between Fiji, PNG
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s arrival in the country yesterday is a significant step in the warming of relations between the two countries.
He is here to be with other regional leaders in the preparatory meeting for the United Nations Ocean Conference in June in New York. Fiji is co-hosting the conference with Sweden.
Relations between Fiji and PNG have gone through testing times over the years. In 2013, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama arrived in PNG for his first state visit there. Expressing his appreciation to the hosts, Mr Bainimarama said the future of the Fiji-PNG relations remains solid and promising.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Fiji and my government attaches great respect and value for the years that we have stood together, side by side. Through this process, Fijians have come to know who their true friends are – we are grateful for the genuine friendship of the people of Papua New Guinea,” Mr Bainimarama said.
But soon after he left PNG, Mr O’Neill announced the refugee deal between PNG and Australia. That did not go down well with some here who felt that Mr O’Neill could have informed the PM at least.
Relations suffered another blow when Mr O’Neill chose to accept an invitation for a state visit to New Zealand over an invitation from Fiji for the launching of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), a Fijian initiative.
Before the 2014 general election, resource-rich PNG promised to contribute 50 million kina (FJ$40 million) to the Fijian election cost. It has paid an installment but the remainder has not been paid.
Who knows that might be part of the goodies he has brought with him. He could contribute to the cost of Fiji co-hosting the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York in June and holding the presidency of COP23.
Mr O’Neill said before he left Port Moresby for Fiji that he would like to sort out some issues of concern with Fiji before he signs the proposed Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) free trade agreement.
In 2015, Mr Bainimarama wrote to Mr O’Neill that he would not attend the 46th Pacififc Island Froum (PIF), but he would be represented by his Foreign Affairs Minister.
“I regret that I am unable to attend myself because of the refusal of Australia and New Zealand to step back and allow the Pacific Island nations to determine their own futures free from outside interference.”
But Fiji would continue to be engaged at ministerial level, he said. However, Mr O’Neill has dismissed Fiji’s push to remove Australia and New Zealand from PIF. He said a common sense approach was needed in the debate surrounding the Pacific’s regional body.
Mr O’Neill has also dismissed claims that PNG is trying to assert regional leadership over Fiji.
He has said: “We are not vying to become the leader of the Pacific. We are of course the biggest economy, we’ve got the biggest population and biggest country in the Pacific. So everything we do is big in size. Decisions we make are quite large in terms of its influence, so we don’t see it as rivalry between the two countries.”
There’s enough evidence that there are differences that need to be ironed out. Mr O’Neill’s brief visit here offers that window of opportunity to start the process and strengthen relations.