12 Jan 2010

NZ to boost diplomatic relations with Fiji

10:16 pm on 12 January 2010

The New Zealand Government is making efforts to improve its diplomatic relations with Fiji, but says this does not signal a substantive change in policy towards the regime.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the decision follows talks with Fiji counterpart Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in Nadi last week.

As a result, both countries have agreed to appoint diplomats to their high commissions in Wellington and Suva.

The announcement comes two months after Fiji expelled New Zealand's top diplomat Todd Cleaver from the country.

It was the third such expulsion since military commander Frank Bainimarama took over the Pacific nation in 2006 and was in retaliation for a travel ban imposed by the New Zealand Government on Fiji officials.

Mr McCully says the reduction in staff at the New Zealand High Commission in Suva had put its viability under threat, while the Fiji mission in Wellington was down to one person.

He says while sanctions on Fiji remain in place, Tuesday's announcement does signal a determination to improve the relationship.

Mr McCully says the appointment of a high commissioner is a logical next step. However, he wants to be sure the conditions are in place in Fiji to ensure such a person would stay.

The main opposition Labour Party supports the Government's efforts to improve relations with Fiji.

Labour leader Phil Goff says not withstanding the fundamental differences between New Zealand and the military regime, it is vital to have diplomatic representation.

Mr Goff says it is important New Zealand works with Fiji to find a way forward, providing that it meets the values and principles that New Zealand upholds, along with the Pacific Forum and the Commonwealth.