Analysis

On What Grounds Have Visas For Fijians Been Suspended On Arrival In Bangkok?

Government officials were shocked when they heard the news yesterday. There was no communication through the normal diplomatic channel.
13 Mar 2020 10:59
On What Grounds Have Visas For Fijians Been Suspended On Arrival In Bangkok?
The city of Ayuthaya, located in the Chao Phraya River valley in Thailand, is one of the most iconic tourist attractions.

Thailand shocked Government officials yesterday when it fired a broadside by including Fiji a blacklist over the coronavirus.

It announced it was suspending visas on arrival for visitors from 18 countries.

Apart from Fiji, the other countries are Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Georgia, India, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Usbekistan, Vanuatu and Taiwan.

The suspension also applies to high-risk countries, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong until the situation returns to normal.

Thailand has 70 confirmed cases. It was one of the first countries outside of China to report infections of the COVID-19 virus.

How can Fiji be in the same group as China, where COVID-19 started from?

The Thailand Embassy in Canberra, which is accredited to Fiji, obviously made the initial assessment. Vanuatu is the other Pacific island nation on the list.

But what was it based on when Fiji has been exemplary in its handling of the COVID-19 threat? Not only are we coronavirus free, we have set up a laboratory in Tamavua to test for the coronavirus. Previously the test was done in Australia.

It appears the Thai-Canberra office made a random selection of countries to put on the blacklist without any doing any due diligence. If it had checked with authorotative sources like the World Health Organisation in Suva, it would have got a factual report which said Fiji was doing reasonably well in its COVID-19 preparedness and no one had been infected. Vanuatu also has no confirmed cases and has set up a taskforce to ensure coronavirus is kept out of its borders.

But French Polynesia, which is the first Pacific island nation to record its first confirmed case, is not on the blacklist. French politician Maina Sage was confirmed with COVID-19 after returning from Paris to Tahiti on March 7.

It brings into question the rationale used to name countries on the blacklist.

While it is within its sovereign rights to decide who enters Thailand or not, its Canberra mission could have at least shown some courtesy by informing the Fiji High Commission what it planned to do.

If it had done so the Fijians would have presented a compelling case why Fiji should not be on the list.

Like Fiji, Thailand is a popular tourist destination and it is being hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

Maybe Fiji should review its travel restrictions and place Thailand on its list.

Coronavirus aside, Fiji and Thailand have had strong diplomatic relations since December 1972.

The Fiji High Commissioner to Malaysia is also accredited to Thailand.

The Ambassador of the Royal Thai Embassy in Australia is accredited to Fiji.

Under their bilateral relations they have a robust development cooperation.

Government records show that the Thai government through the Thailand International Co-operation Agency (TICA) has over the years offered training courses and scholarships for capacity development of Fiji citizens. The short term capacity development courses are in the areas of agriculture and procurement.

Thailand has also provided scholarships for Fijian citizens to pursue high degree such as a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and International Studies and a Masters in Nursing Science in Nursing Administration.

Candidates that have acquired these scholarships have graduated with such high degree.

Cordial relations and exchanges between the two governments are through delegation visits to explore investment opportunities namely in the tourism and trade sectors.

Likewise, Thailand has in the past requested Fiji’s support to its candidatures that stands for elections in positions at international organisations.

With these strong relations, it is surprising that there was no prior discussion with Fijian officials before Thailand made the announcement.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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