Claire Trevett

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

Key: Change of stance on Fiji highly unlikely

The issues facing the Pacific Islands Forum have changed since it was held in Auckland 40 years ago. Photo / Supplied
The issues facing the Pacific Islands Forum have changed since it was held in Auckland 40 years ago. Photo / Supplied

Prime Minister John Key says he would be "absolutely stunned" if the leaders of the Pacific Islands changed their position on Fiji, despite an apparent show of support for Fiji from some over the weekend.

Pacific Island leaders have begun to arrive in New Zealand for the Pacific Islands Forum which officially opens on Wednesday.

Fiji, which has been suspended from the forum since the December 2006 coup, will again form part of the discussions.

There are several new leaders at the forum this year - including in each of the large Melanesian countries of PNG, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, which are generally more sympathetic to Fiji than others in the Pacific. Other leaders will be keen to see if they maintain the views held by their predecessors.

Mr Key said he would ask each leader about Fiji during his one-on-one meetings with them.

However, he was not expecting a change of stance and did not expect leaders to waste much time on the topic.

The Solomon Islands' new Prime Minister, Danny Philip, has previously said the decision to exclude Fiji from the forum was "a big mistake".

He and PNG's new Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, were two of the three leaders who endorsed Commodore Frank Bainimarama's reforms and progress toward a September 2014 election date at the Engaging with the Pacific forum in Nadi last week - Commodore Bainimarama's alternative to the Pacific Islands Forum.

The communique stopped short of calling for Fiji to be reinstated to the forum, but agreed it was progressing as promised and Fiji's reforms were "a credible homegrown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation state and to hold parliamentary elections".

The endorsement appears to go against the line taken by other forum countries. However, Mr Key said it should be treated with some caution. Of the 12 countries represented, nine were forum members but only three leaders were at the meeting other than Commodore Bainimarama - Mr O'Neill, Mr Philip and Tuvalu Prime Minister Willy Tevali. The other countries were represented by lower ministers or representatives.

Mr Key said similar statements were made prior to the last forum, but it had not changed the stance of any of the leaders.

"Like New Zealand and Australia the countries in the Pacific strongly believe democracy should be restored."

Yesterday began one of the busiest weeks in international affairs in Mr Key's time as Prime Minister.

By Friday night he will have slotted in 22 bilateral meetings with the heads of other countries and international organisations, as well as hosted the forum retreat and leaders' meeting and spent time with private sector groups here for the forum.

He will have a one-on-one meeting with each of the leaders of the Pacific countries attending as well as several observer nations and organisations.

He said yesterday the level of interest shown by international actors such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barosso showed the forum had gained a lot of respect because of its long tenure. It is the 40th anniversary of the first forum in Auckland in 1971.

Mr Key said he hoped to make the post-forum dialogue a more significant part of the forum this year. It was the stage when nations such as the United States, China, India, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Commission, the World Bank and the Commonwealth met with Pacific leaders.

"We're trying to push it along and give it real purpose. We're also keen to see more private sector engagement there."

THE ISSUES

Forty years after the first Pacific Islands Forum was held in Auckland, it is returning. The faces have changed, as have the issues - from nuclear testing to climate change and trade.

Climate change

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's top goal for his first forum visit was to "continue to sound the alarm about climate change". The words will be sweet music to low lying atolls of Kiribati, Tuvalu (above) and Tokelau, who want easier access to a UN fund. The UN is a forum observer.

Trade

Progress towards a regionwide Pacer Plus trade agreement that benefits smaller island nations hit a further hurdle last week after Chris Noonan - the chief trade adviser for the Island countries - resigned. It followed controversy over Australia's refusal to hand over its agreed contribution to fund his office.

Fiji

Fiji, ruled by Commodore Frank Bainimarama (right), is suspended from the forum so will not be represented. Prime Minister John Key is not expecting any change in stance, despite some sympathy for Fiji by leaders of Melanesian countries.

Aid

The theme of the forum is "converting potential into prosperity" - reflecting the aim of focusing aid money and private investment on economic development. There will be a stocktake of the Cairns Compact, signed two years ago and requiring greater co-ordination of aid. The growing role of China will come under scrutiny.

Associate Members

French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru will use this forum to lobby for support from Australia and New Zealand, the forum itself and the UN, for French Polynesia's decolonisation bid. France has rejected the French Polynesia Assembly resolution asking to be reinscribed on the UN list of territories to be decolonised.

- NZ Herald

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