Tonga proposes land swap with Fiji
Tonga is proposing to trade the disuputed Minerva reef with Fiji, in exchange for the Lau island group.
Tonga is proposing to trade the disputed Minerva reef with Fiji, in exchange for the Lau island group.
The Tongan land minister, Lord Ma'afu, is preparing the proposal to put to his Fijian counterpart, to settle ownership of the reef.
But an Auckland University indigenous studies expert, Dr Steven Ratuva, told Christopher Gilbert the deal is one-sided and could be seen as a political joke.
STEVEN RATUVA: Well the first issue is whether he was really serious about it, or is it just one of those Fijian-Tongan humourous political exchanges which normally happens. Because it's really not the first time it's been raised. In fact in the 1980s the King of Tonga then proposed that half of Fiji actually belongs to Tonga, of course a bit of political stir between the two countries and they were able to sort it out. So the context of how Lord Ma'afu would make that happen is not very clear But certainly it has raised a few eyebrows in Fiji. Some have taken it as, perhaps, a political joke. In some cases some people are probably taking it more seriously.
CHRISTOPHER GILBERT: Minerva is disputed between Fiji and Tonga...
SR: Yeah Minerva has always been a serious issue, particularly after the 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was being proposed. Because, earlier than that Tonga had claimed the north and south Minerva reefs and Fiji had initially agreed to that until later when Fiji realised it was actually within its claim of the 200 mile EEZ. That's when the issue became very serious, leading to Fiji demolishing the navigational beacon Tonga had planted on the reef. So that led to a naval showdown between the two countries a couple of years ago. So, it has a lot of serious implications, particularly now. Around Minerva reef there's a lot of rich deposits for minerals. Whoever claims the reef will have claim to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars worth of wealth.
CG: In that context what benefit is there for Tonga in acquiring the Lau islands and what loss would there be for Fiji if they were to hand them over?
SR: Well, if you're talking claims to the Lau islands you're talking claiming half of the Fiji group. Because the Lau group constitutes very small islands, among the smallest islands in Fiji, but in terms of sea area you're really talking about probably more than half of the total sea area in Fiji. So Tonga has a lot to win. It'll probably triple the size of Tonga and reduce the size of Fiji by half. If the issue has been taken seriously I think Fiji will begin to realise it will lose out a lot and Tonga will win a lot through the swap. Although, Fiji might win the Minerva reef, it'll lose half of its territory and I'm not sure whether anyone in the Fiji government or the Fijian population at large will be willing to let go of half of its territory.
CG: It's quite an audacious ask isn't it?
SR: Well, yeah. It's like asking New Zealand to get rid of the North Island. Politically it's quite a serious, audacious situation and I think it's something that needs to be sorted out diplomatically and I think a good chance will prevail. Because the last thing that we want is to have a repeat of what happened in 2010.
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