Tensions between Fiji and New Zealand boiled over Tuesday when both countries kicked out each other’s chief diplomats.
In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Fiji’s Attorney General announced that ambassador Caroline McDonald would be expelled not because New Zealand refused to grant visas to three family members of senior officials in Fiji’s government who came to power in a December 2006 coup. Instead, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum reasoned McDonald’s “actions over the past year that have been contrary to the accepted international norms of diplomatic behavior.”
Sayed-Khaiyum also alleged that the New Zealand and Australian governments were tapping phone lines in Fiji.
The New Zealand government retaliated to McDonald’s expulsion by demanding Fiji’s High Commissioner leave the country within seven days. In a press release, New Zealand’s foreign minister argued Fiji’s allegations against McDonald were not specific, leading to wonder whether the real issue remained the travel ban imposed by New Zealand and Australia after Fiji’s December 2006 coup.
McDonald is the second representative from New Zealand to be expelled from Fiji in the past 18 months.
Australia’s government also learned Tuesday its South Pacific Defence Advisor would not be granted a visa, giving him seven days to leave Fiji.
Bloggers and commenters in both New Zealand and Fiji have largely found fault with their governments’ actions.
Raw Fiji News calls the moves by self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama irresponsible.
The second expulsion of NZ’s High Commission to Fiji by it’s military regime within a span of 12 months is diplomatic suicide. Frank has declared war against Key’s newly formed NZ government and he is gonna get it. There will definitely be swift retaliatory action not only by the NZ government but the international community as a whole. NZ will alert its citizens to cease visiting their popular tourist destination Fiji because of their government’s inability to respond fully and freely to any SOS calls by a New Zealander in Fiji. And there is good reason for them to be concerned about the safety of their citizens.
In a separate post, Raw Fiji News says the government is using the diplomatic row as a means of placing public scrutiny elsewhere.
The irrational Frank has finally made the delayed call to boot the New Zealand representative in Fiji to show NZ and the international community that Fiji belongs to him. Like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Frank has launched a personal war against NZ which some say will be another distraction and excuse as to why the elections will be delayed further.
Writing before the expulsions took place, New Zealand’s Whale Oil Blog argues that New Zealand’s government could have handled this diplomatic row a little better.
Bluster and finger point generally doesn’t work. There is an easy solution for all but it requires New Zealand to climb down from their post-colonial posturing and Fiji to accept some honest assistance i getting them back on the road to democracy.
In Fiji news sites, forums and comment sections, the government's moves drew both praise and protest.
In FijiLive, Lis Body commented:
Frank will eventually learn … that Fiji is just a little dot on the ocean and we can't compete with countries like NZ, OZ or other democratically elected countries. NZ and Australia should close down the embassies in Fiji. People in Fiji would then like Tonga have to travel to the next country just to lodge a visa application and the costs … oh boy!
From Peni, with a reference to New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key:
In your face Key, that's what happens when you keep interfering in other nation's affairs. Why don't you poke your nose other nations like China, Burma, Iran, Libya and so forth? Well, you know what. I know the answer … your country is too small to use your favourite bullying tactics on these big nations.
In a Scoop New Zealand column arguing the New Zealand government is placing itself on the sideline by engaging in the diplomatic war with Fiji, stuart munro adds a comment:
To prop up NZ’s current reactive stance on Fiji our government has acted in an increasingly petty and vindictive manner.
Bainimarama was not an enthusiastic entrant to the coup game – he sat out two without becoming involved, and his own was rather bloodless and not without a constitutionally valid cause.
Our current sanctions reflect spite more than the liberality that must prevail between mature neighbours.