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Key’s Fiji mission dubbed ‘a failure’

Monday 13 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – Prime Minister John Key’s attempt to rebuild New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji has backfired on him, the New Zealand Labour Party says.

Key described his official visit to Fiji this week as a success, despite publicly disagreeing with the country’s leader on several issues.

At a state banquet, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama criticised the New Zealand media and defended his banning of some journalists from Fiji, claiming they “dispensed with facts”.

Key asked Bainimarama to reconsider the ban during the visit, and said they would have to agree to disagree.

But he said overall the trip was a success.

“The aim of this visit was really to reset the relationship, put the last sort of – I suppose eight years of the military coup behind us – really to say, look we now have a new foundation stone, we want to take the relationship from strength to strength.”

However, Labour foreign affairs spokesperson, David Shearer, said the trip was a disaster.

“It backfired completely,” he said.

“Frank Bainimarama used the opportunity of Key being there used the opportunity to lecture New Zealand on the way it treated Fiji.

“He didn’t step back from the restrictions on media orthe heavy-handedness within parliament.”

Shearer said the government needed to keep pushing Fijian officials for a better democracy.

Key said he also made it clear to Bainimarama that New Zealand would not leave the Pacific Islands Forum, which Bainimarama had previously sought.

“Don’t be fooled by the polite smiles shared by John Key and Frank Bainimarama as they greeted each other on Friday morning,” Fairfax report-er Tracy Watkins reported from Fiji.

“Key’s delegation would have been seething over the Fijian prime minister’s extraordinary diplomatic slapdown at an official state dinner in Suva on Thursday evening.

“Bainimarama used the speech – and the rare presence of New Zealand media – to rehash 10 years worth of personal grievances against New Zea-land and Australia and deliberately embarrassed Key by publicly demolishing some of his talking points for their Friday meeting, including re-strictions on the press.

“It didn’t go unnoticed either that Bainimarama was hardly effusive in his acknowledgement of New Zealand’s assistance during Cyclone Win-ston, our biggest ever post World War Two deployment.

“If a picture can speak a thousand words it was visible on the blank faces of those seated at the top table with Key, a group which included some of his closest advisors and Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

“They could already see the headlines about Key’s trip turning into a diplomatic disaster.

“If that has been averted it is solely down to Key, rather than his Fijian counterpart.

“Key restrained himself from retaliating in his response and kept things deliberately light, focusing on the close ties between the two countries.

“But there was none of the previous evening’s kava cheer when the two met up Friday morning for their formal meeting at the Fiji parliament. The atmosphere seemed cool when they later delivered brief statements to media.

“The atmospherics inside the cabinet room where they met is said to have been decidedly warmer. So maybe Bainimarama’s stony face was due to the presence of New Zealand media.

“Things only lightened up when the pair exchanged sporting memorabilia as gifts.

“But if hopes were high ahead of Key’s visit for some diplomatic wins, maybe agreement from Bainimarama to re-engage with the Pacific Forum, those hopes were dashed.

“Bainimarama, a fanatical rugby fan, clearly favours the offensive play book for his diplomatic moves,” Wilson commented.

- PNC sources