FIJI NEWS

Japan bows to Aussies over invite to PM

Ratu Inoke now too busy, Tokyo told OPINION BY GRAHAM DAVIS (Fijian born and educated Graham Davis is an international-award-winning Australian journalist. He blogs at grubsheet.com.au) Japan has damaged its
19 May 2012 10:15

Not invited: Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama (photo: Grubsheet)

Ratu Inoke now too busy, Tokyo told

OPINION
BY GRAHAM DAVIS

(Fijian born and educated Graham Davis is an international-award-winning Australian journalist. He blogs at grubsheet.com.au)

Japan has damaged its close relations with Fiji by bowing to an Australian request not to proceed with plans to invite Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to a regional conference this month.
The Australian newspaper says the Japanese Government had been keen to ask Commodore Bainimarama to come to Tokyo for the triennial PALM Forum of Pacific leaders. Japan hosts this and invites the Pacific Island Forum countries.
But after the intervention of Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, wrote to Commodore Bainimarama explaining that his foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, would be invited instead.
Japan is reported to have been convinced by Australia that not enough has been done to lift so-called “draconian” public-order regulations in Fiji.
Suva has reacted coolly, telling Japan that Ratu Inoke is “busy” with another international engagement and that the country will not be sending anyone to PALM.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official indicated Tokyo had been surprised and disappointed by Fiji’s response. “We took it as a very negative sign and we are very unhappy about it,” he said.

OFFENCE CAUSED
UNDERESTIMATED

But Japan clearly underestimated the offence caused in Suva by its decision to put its relationship with Australia first and allow Canberra to dictate Japanese policy.
Fiji had been hoping to capitalise on announcing a series of reforms aimed at restoring democracy. These include the formation of a commission to formulate a new constitution in the lead-up to elections in 2014.
Japan, the paper says, had been keen to end Commodore Bainimarama’s Pacific Islands Forum isolation by inviting him to attend the PALM talks. But that was before Mr Carr persuaded the government that Fiji had not yet done enough to warrant being rewarded.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry official said that Japan welcomed the promise of elections and constitutional consultation, but after “very, very in-depth consultations with Australia” decided to drop its push for the commodore’s attendance.
“The public-order decree is (effectively) still in place and there’s still a quite significant chilling effect on various groups including trade unions,” The Australian quoted him as saying.

CARR IN TOKYO
FOR TALKS

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who is visiting Tokyo for talks, welcomed Japan’s decision not to invite Commodore Bainimarama.
“Our view is that we maintain our position on Fiji until we have been persuaded that the process of constitutional consultation is thoroughly open,” he said.
“There have been encouraging signs in Fiji but the continuing process of consultation about a new constitution has some distance to go. But there should be no weakening of our position until democratic norms have been reinstated.”
In Suva, Australia’s intervention will be greeted with fury. The Fijian Government had hoped for a gradual thawing of relations with Canberra after Mr Carr spoke of “credible steps” to restore democracy when he recently visited the Fijian capital as part of a delegation from the Pacific Forum.
But Japan’s snub to Prime Minister Bainimarama will also cause disappointment and dismay.

REGULAR MEETINGS
BY AMBASSADORS

In stark contrast with Australia and New Zealand, Japan has maintained good relations with Fiji and its ambassadors have had regular meetings with Commodore Bainimarama himself.
Last month, Commodore Bainimarama warmly thanked Japan for its assistance at the opening of the new Japan-Pacific ICT (Information and Communication Technology) complex at the University of the South Pacific.
The Japanese Government provided US $21.5 million for the project.
Commodore Bainimarama also paid tribute to the outgoing Japanese ambassador, Yutaka Yoshizawa, who was seen to be especially popular in Fijian Government circles.
As Fiji’s relations with Japan go into deep freeze, his successor, Eiichi Oshima, is likely to face a much cooler reception.




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