P.M. Tuilaepa stands up for Australia, N.Z.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his Fijian counterpart, Frank Bainimarama are at loggerheads once more.
This time, the difference of opinions is over Mr. Bainimarama reiterating a call for New Zealand and Australia to be kicked out of the Pacific Islands Forum, saying "they are not Pacific Islanders".
Mr. Bainimarama has again boycotted the Forum, as Pacific leaders arrive in the Federated States of Micronesia for the annual gathering.
Fiji was suspended from the Forum after the military coup of 2006 and now its Prime Minister shuns it and wants Fiji in the regional driver's seat.
While bilateral relations improve, Mr. Bainimarama's regional view hasn't changed.
"In fact if it was up to me we would remove Australia and New Zealand from the forum," he said. "I don't think they should be in the forum. They are not Pacific Islanders."
But that's unlikely to happen.
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, called Mr. Bainimarama's stand radical and unfriendly.
"When he goes out, long after that New Zealand and also Australia and the Pacific Forum will continue to function," Tuilaepa said.
He told ONE News that he could understand why Mr. Bainimarama would not show up.
"How can he maintain a straight face and talk normally to two Prime Ministers when he has already made this kind of radical and unfriendly statements?" Tuilaepa said.
He went on to say that New Zealand and Australia were founding members long before Mr. Bainimarama was ever a prime minister, and will continue to be long after he is not.
Mr. Bainimarama is sending his foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in his place and Tuilaepa said he will do a great job. He knows this as he has met him often in the region.
In fact, he said, "Many times I tend to forget that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is not the Prime Minister [of Fiji]."
Mr. Bainimarama's no-show was expected, according to New Zealand Prime Minister To’osavili John Key as he touched down for the forum.
"We had expected for some time that Frank Bainimarama wouldn't turn up. They were the indications we got when we were in Suva," To’osavili said.
"But as I said to Frank when we were over there, New Zealand isn't going anywhere when it comes to the Pacific Forum.”
Fiji is working to reconfigure the Pacific; building ties with non-traditional partners like China and Russia.