The Socialist International’s Asia Pacific Committee met Aug. 7-8 in Wellington, New Zealand, at the invitation of Helen Clark, the Labor prime minister. The urgent issue on the agenda was Fiji. Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the Fiji Labor Party leader who had been overthrown, explained the background.
After a sweeping electoral victory in the May 1999 general election, when the Labor-led coalition won over two-thirds of the seats, there was a systematic attempt to destabilize the new government that was led by elements from the former governing party and extreme nationalist gangs under the pretext of protecting indigenous interests.
The operation was financed by private enterprise frightened by the government’s radical program of social reform and poverty alleviation, and its close association with the trade union movement. It was led by corporate groups bidding for the right to exploit mahogany and native hardwood forestry. The police and military failed to protect and defend the government; alongside George Speight and his gang when the People’s Coalition Government was taken hostage were members of the armed forces’ counterrevolutionary-warfare unit. It was nothing less than a coup d’etat by the military-industrial complex.
As a result, the 1997 constitution has been ripped up, a government has been imposed by the military that is effectively controlled by those supporting the coup, and the military is attempting to escape its responsibility for events by turning on one part of the conspiracy, namely Speight and his gang.
The SI Asia Pacific Committee backed proposals by the Labor-led People’s Coalition for the reinstatement of the 1997 constitution and, in the spirit of national reconciliation, supported the formation of a grand coalition government in Fiji. Unless this democratic outcome is achieved, unless the slide toward a form of apartheid (making second-class citizens of Indo-Fijians, who constitute nearly half the population) is halted, the committee demands support for the actions taken by the New Zealand government.
There should be concerted action at bilateral, regional and global levels. These should include, first, “smart sanctions” targeting those involved in the coup, denying them freedom to travel, freezing foreign assets and threatening them, when apprehended, with the consequences of the U.N. Hostage Convention. Second, Fiji should be banned from all international sporting and cultural events. Third, there should be a denial of all economic and military assistance to and through the present government.
Fiji is important not only in its own right, but because it could set a precedent for other semi-clandestine “coups in waiting.” Is Europe and the rest of the developed world prepared to tackle the issue of indigenous rights?
In contrast, the other key issue is an opportunity rather than a threat: recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, where the last months have seen unprecedented progress in what has been a half-century standoff. The recognition by North Korea that South Korean President Kim Dae Jung was not only genuine in his offer of peaceful coexistence and cooperation, but likely to be able to deliver the support of the majority of South Koreans, led to the breakthrough.
Kim is a former dissident who had endured an assassination attempt, imprisonment and a death sentence at the hands of his predecessors. Almost three years ago, he narrowly won the presidential election and managed the first ever democratic transition of power in South Korea’s history. He changed South Korea’s approach to the North, opting for cohabitation over confrontation.
Recognizing that there may be politically motivated attempts to derail the process of peaceful reconciliation, the SI Asia Pacific Committee congratulated Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, and Kim Dae Jung on their historic breakthrough, and urged member parties and governments to support the process. In particular, they should encourage North Korea’s participation in the international community by welcoming them into as many international organizations as possible. The committee agreed to consider dispatching a delegation to North and South Korea if it would assist the process.
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