Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama coming for official visit - and the Bledisloe Cup

Prime Minister John Key and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Fiji in September. Photo / Claire Trevett
Prime Minister John Key and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Fiji in September. Photo / Claire Trevett

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will come for his first official visit coinciding with the Bledisloe Cup match later this month.

Bainimarama delivered a tongue-lashing to Prime Minister John Key when Key visited Fiji in June - his first visit since the coup in 2006.

Despite that, Key invited Bainimarama for an official visit in return.

He said today he would be taking Bainimarama to the Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park on October 22 as part of the visit.

While the visit was yet to be formally announced, Australian media have reported Bainimarama will visit Sydney before travelling to Auckland for the rugby and to deliver a speech.

Bainimarama has repeatedly criticised Key and New Zealand, but Key said despite appearances, the relationship was on the improve.

"That's the aim of putting our best foot forward and going to Fiji and sort of trying to be the bigger person in the relationship in a way. I took it all with a bit of a grain of salt, the fact that he made the speech he made. Outside of that, things were quite friendly."

He said he believed Bainimarama knew he needed a good relationship with New Zealand, something highlighted by the response to Cyclone Winston.

"I think he is trying to put the relationship on a better footing and I think the relationship is a lot deeper than just between the leaders. It's nothing terribly personal with me."

Labour leader Andrew Little said there was ongoing concern about actions in Fiji, such as the arrest of Opposition MPs taking part in a public forum about the Constitution.

He did not believe Bainimarama's treatment of Key on his visit was appropriate for a head of government.

However, it was important to continue with the "thaw" in relations and he had no objection to Bainimarama visiting and would meet with him if invited.

He said it was in New Zealand's interests to improve links with Fiji, given its growing relations with countries such as China and Russia made that more important.

"We know that Fiji is forging international relations with other big partners which have an interest in the Pacific. It's for that reason I think we need to continue to play our customary role as a good neighbour in the South Pacific."

In a speech at a banquet in Key's honour in Suva in June, Bainimarama had hit out at the sanctions New Zealand put in place during the years of the coup.

Bainimarama also rejected Key's request to overturn bans on some New Zealand and Australian based journalists, such as TVNZ's long-standing Pacific reporter Barbara Dreaver.

Bainimarama was also angered by more recent criticism of the Fijian government over the arrests of the Opposition MPs who were arrested for attending a public meeting without a permit.

Fiji's Public Order Act requires a permit for any public meetings.

After that Bainimarama told Fijian media Key was being disrespectful of himself and Fiji by using words such as "mouthing off" and "silly" to describe the situation.

In September, Bainimarama also renewed his criticism of New Zealand and Australia and boycotted the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting, saying he would not return until the two countries were locked out of the Forum.

In the same month, Fiji withdrew from the Pacer Plus Pacific-wide trade agreement negotiations, forcing Trade Minister Todd McClay to abandon his visit to Fiji at the last minute.

- NZ Herald

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