‘Fiji benefits from Pacific regionalism’

Leaders were all smiles as they posed in their matching coral shifts for the Pacific Islands Forum family photo at their summit in Tuvalu in 2019. Photo: RNZ / Yvette McCullough

FIJI has been the biggest beneficiary of regionalism in the Pacific, says renowned Fijian academic and University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies director Dr Steven Ratuva.

He said Fiji was the token state in terms of making sure regionalism worked “because a lot of countries looked up to Fiji in that sense”.

“Those of us who went to study at the University of the South Pacific (USP), students from all over the Pacific see Suva as their second home,” Dr Ratuva said.

He added that Fiji had a duty of care for small island states, especially in light of Micronesia withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum.

“The moral and political duties of care perhaps to initiate discussions, initiate engagement with Micronesia and move forward from there.

“Engagement would probably include formalisation of the general mandate agreement between the forum and the countries.

“Have this formalised and then invite Micronesia to provide the next secretary-general.”

Dr Ratuva said there were different ways in which Fiji could negotiate and come to terms with what was happening.

“This is where we use the Pacific way as a means of engaging with the region.

“Fiji is well-positioned to be able to lead the process and it should if it has the political will to do it.

“If we do not act now, then regionalism is going to go through a very significant process of fragmentation which will be destructive for Fiji because Fiji had benefited very much from regionalism.

“If the forum breaks up, if USP breaks up and there was already talk of relocating USP somewhere else and other regional organisations are probably thinking privately of doing the same thing.”

He claimed international organisations had been whispering to each other of what was happening here.

“I think Fiji should really assert itself as the custodian of these regional international organisations and move the process of consolidation which means a lot had to change in terms of how Fiji approached these organisations rather than seeing them as existing institutions within our realm, they should be seen as having duty of care to make sure that they thrive here.”

Dr Ratuva said the regional interests were actually beneficial to Fiji.

“If Fiji thinks in terms of its own national interests, it will be destructive to Fiji in terms to the benefits of regionalism.”

He said with the Pacific Islands Forum and regional organisations being set up in Fiji and regionalism generally –– confirmed Fiji’s status as a regional leader over the years since the time of the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

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