Why We Punch Above Weight

John Ross is  a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him:   Just lately there is a
04 Mar 2017 11:00
Why We Punch Above Weight
Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama with Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi who visited Fiji to strengthen bi-lateral ties between the two countries.

John Ross is  a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him:


Just lately there is a phrase that is recurring fairly frequently.

“Fiji is hitting above its weight”, is an allusion to the fact that Fiji has found a new power and respect in the international community.

It is true that just recently Fiji has achieved new heights in the international arena, both in politics and in advocacy.

When I first came to Fiji in early January 1994, I was surprised at how much of the colonial era still existed here.

It seemed that there was a sort of benign attitude, generally manifested by the two largest nations in the region, Australia and New Zealand, that Fiji was a nice, laid back place but a bit naive and unsophisticated and that they (the two big brothers) needed to look after and act for this gentle, playful, uneducated country internationally.

And in fact, they did just that, without much discussion with Fiji about their wishes on the subject.

They did it in part by putting in place structures that claimed to be an inclusive entity that was to assist Fiji politically, but in fact allowed them to do they wanted Fiji to do.

The figurehead of this idea was the Pacific Islands Forum, an organisation that included both Australia and New Zealand as members and gave them a stronger presence than other members.

There were other manifestations of this attitude in other areas such as trade and security, and Fiji went along with the situation for many years.

Lately things changed Fiji earned a respected position in the international community for its very long term commitment to providing peacekeeping forces on the ground to back up United Nations actions in many places, but mainly focussed in the perennial trouble spots in the Middle East.

And Fiji did this task with such professionalism and an attitude of equality that they were welcomed by all the governments of the troubled region. This continues to this day.

With the coming of the Bainimarama government in 2006, Fiji’s attitude to the benevolence of the Big Brothers changed.

For a start both Australia and New Zealand opposed the government change and treated the leaders with disdain and suggesting the new policies were ill founded.

They imposed travel restrictions on the government Ministers, civil servants and even their children attending school overseas.

They sought international sanctions against Fiji and even had the country excluded from the Commonwealth because Fiji wanted to go its own way.

In doing so they forced Fiji to go further than they may otherwise have.

Fiji set about bringing in the new order.

They built new alliances, firstly within the region, then internationally.

A new grouping of countries, based on a common background, formed a strong advocacy and political representation body to allow them to act together on issues of common concern, the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Today, this group has developed into a strong and reliable force that can work internationally on behalf of the members.

Fiji also had disagreement with some of the actions of the Pacific Islands Forum and withdrew support. Instead Fiji went and negotiated unilaterally with partners to resolve issues and to build relationships.

Because of the resolute leadership demonstrated by the Fiji government and the individual relationships that were built, Fiji developed into a natural and trusted leader for the nations of the South Pacific.

While each country in the South Pacific is small (Fiji included), as a cohesive group they carried a lot of weight.

For instance, each country carried one vote in the United Nations General Assembly, representing a eight vote block that would have an impact in any decision.

The Melanesian countries also have a vote each making the voting block potentially thirteen, a very large number by any measure.

Fiji, being the largest, strongest and most experienced country in the block became the natural leader.

Other nations started to take notice of the region because of the voting power they bought to the UN.

The bigger countries (who also had only one vote) realised that the South Pacific could influence the final decisions in the UN General Assembly and that it was better to have a good relationship, especially as it was obvious that Australia and New Zealand could no longer be relied on to deliver the Pacific votes, as in the past.

Even the largest nations were interested in being friends.

The most senior leaders from China and India saw the need for a formal state visit to Fiji and Russia turned up with a treasury worth of military hardware.

Australia and New Zealand revaluated their relationship and political position and re-established friendly and supportive attitudes.

A lot of smaller countries from around the world also sort to be aligned through international political arrangements, some establishing Embassies in Fiji.

Because of the critical and immediate effects of Climate Change on the country, Fiji became a world leader in the attempts to mitigate the impacts of the changing patterns and in Paris in 2016 was instrumental in firm decisions being made, where once the world leaders had held back from a commitment.

Showing the regard the international community has for Fiji, we has been given the leadership for COP 23 in Bonn for what will be an extremely important series of conferences.

A Fijian representative was voted the President of the General Assembly of the UN in September 2016 and Fiji has representatives on many or the important UN and EU committees.

Australia and New Zealand have opened up their seasonal employment to Fijians and trade to Fiji exporters.

While all this amazing change was happening in the international political arena there was also a lot of economic activity at home.

The government has focussed heavily on infrastructure development, using the world’s best companies to build new roads, bridges and other facilities to allow the local markets to develop and expand.

A new Constitution was put in place, guaranteeing Fijians freedoms and protection only available in the most liberal and well developed nations.

Education is now free and readily available to every Fijian, even tertiary level government loans are available, free health services have been upgraded and spread so as to be within reach of every citizen and, while Fiji has always been respectful of every religion, that right is now guaranteed in the Constitution.

After Fiji was hit by the strongest cyclone ever seen in the southern hemisphere, the government moved quickly to return the country to normal, even providing every citizen who’s house had been damaged with a grant sufficient to repair or rebuild.

And in 2016, just to show the world what we thought of ourselves, Fiji became the first nation to win Gold Medals for Rugby  Sevens at the Rio Olympics.

The phrase I prefer is “Fiji takes actions way above its own weight” And I believe we will continue to do so.


Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.

5SQRS Clearance

Fiji Sun Instagram