Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Visit to Fiji lacked concrete gains

Prime Minister John Key says his visit to Fiji and meeting with Fiji's Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama was not futile despite the lack of concrete gains from it.

Mr Key and Mr Bainimarama met in Suva this morning, the day after Mr Bainimarama took a broadside at New Zealand for its stance on the coup he led in 2006.

Mr Key was unable to get a commitment from Mr Bainimarama to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum. Although lower level Fijian ministers do attend Forum meetings, Mr Bainimarama has said he will not return until New Zealand and Australia have a less influential role on it. Mr Key said he had urged Mr Bainimarama to engage at the leadership level. "We also made the point New Zealand is not going anywhere. We have significant responsibilities across the Pacific and we take those responsibilities very seriously."

Mr Key said he had tried without success to get Mr Bainimarama to lift a ban on some foreign journalists, such as TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver. On Thursday night, Mr Bainimarama had made it clear he would not revoke those bans, saying the journalists' reporting was misleading and mischievous. Mr Key said he had raised the issue of media freedom with Mr Bainimarama but did not believe Mr Bainimarama would change his mind anytime soon.

"It is in the agree to disagree camp. The main point I made is that a healthy part of any democracy is being challenged by both the Opposition and the media, that's what makes democracy stronger."

Mr Key said he was not surprised by the comments Mr Bainimarama had made criticising New Zealand for its response to the coup in his speech at the banquet, and believed he had been targeting a domestic audience. He said New Zealand did not resile from its stance and remained concerned about the fragility of democracy in the Pacific.

"I could spend forever looking back, I just don't think that takes us where we want to go."
He did not believe his visit had been futile, saying the front page of the Fiji Times had the headline "Friends Again." "In the end, it's not just a relationship of the political leadership, it's New Zealand's relationship with the people of Fiji."

Mr Key said overall the discussions were at the stage he had expected and Mr Bainimarama had been engaging and friendly.

"I made the points I needed to make."

He had also raised Helen Clark's bid for the UN Secretary General but Mr Bainimarama had not indicated whether Fiji supported that. "We'd appreciate Fiji's support for her. But you've got to remember at the point the coup happened Helen Clark was Prime Minister so it was more intense at that point."

Mr Key said there was an enduring friendship between Fiji and New Zealand and the two countries were working together in areas such as Pacer Plus trade talks and renewable energy projects.

- NZ Herald

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