Key's Fiji visit welcomed
People in Fiji are welcoming John Key's visit to Suva today, with hopes for pressure over human rights and enhanced business opportunities, but some say the trip sends the wrong message.
People in Fiji are welcoming John Key's visit to Suva today.
It's the first by a New Zealand prime minister in a decade and is being seen as the final thawing of frosty relations between the two governments.
Sally Round reports.
Relations soured after New Zealand, along with Australia, imposed sanctions on the military regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama after his 2006 coup.
Tit for tat diplomat expulsions ensued and High Commissioners were re-established only after Fiji held elections two years ago.
Mr Key says that coup is ancient history, and the time is right now for his official visit.
A human rights campaigner in Fiji Shamima Ali says she hopes Mr Key will look closely at what's happening in the country.
Having countries like New Zealand visit also keeps the pressure on for our government in terms of human rights, in terms of a parliamentary democracy and so on and hopefully those things are also talked about. Everything is not perfect.
The deputy leader of Fiji's parliamentary opposition Biman Prasad says last week's suspension of an opposition MP is an example of the Bainimarama government's continued bullying and crushing of the opposition.
He says the visit is a chance for Fijians to press home their country is not out of dictatorship yet.
They will see this visit as an opportunity for Fiji and New Zealand to strengthen their ties but they will also be looking at the messages to this government that they cannot continue to muzzle the opposition, they cannot continue with the dictatorship that they have continued with over the last two years.
Richard Herr who heads the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji, says the two leaders have the chance to reset relations at a personal level after the acrimony caused by the sanctions.
But a tetchy topic still remains - that of New Zealand and Australia's membership of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Mr Bainimarama says their present role as both donors and members of the organisation is untenable and Dr Herr says that will probably be among topics for discussion.
The nature of the aid relationship, the support for post Winston recovery, natural disasters in the region, these are things that will certainly be there, but probably the bottom line, the benchmark for genuine success is if both sides feel more comfortable at the senior political level talking to each other on a relatively friendly basis.
The President of the New Zealand Fiji Business Council Chandar Sen is ecstatic about the visit and the opportunities for business.
This is the last piece I guess in the puzzle, the jigsaw puzzle, it's been a long time coming. We applaud Mr Key's keenness to go and melt the ice away. It opens up more opportunities for our businesses with these sort of government grants, aid, trade, now opening up fully.
But a former aide to two prime ministers in Fiji Shailendra Raju says the visit sends the wrong message.
He says MP suspensions, the FijiFirst government's takeover of a key parliamentary committee and bans on some overseas journalists should concern Mr Key.
By going there blindly supporting Bainimarama and (Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed) Khaiyum, in the long-term it is only going to encourage them to behave in the manner they have been behaving in since the elections so I'm not happy and quite disappointed. I only hope John Key will raise these things with the Fijian government.
Mr Key arrives in Fiji today and is due to meet Mr Bainimarama in Suva on Friday morning.
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