TOKYO — Japan has not invited Fijian strongman Voreqe Bainimarama to a major Pacific leaders’ forum next week, the foreign ministry said Friday, amid concerns his reforms have not gone far enough.
Had Bainimarama attended the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) in Japan, it would have signalled the isolated regime leader’s first major opportunity to return to the international community after years of ostracism.
Japan was closely monitoring the situation in Fiji to see if it was appropriate to invite Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, but “decided recently that it’s impossible because of the insufficient pace of reform toward democratisation”, a foreign ministry official told AFP.
“We instead invited Fiji’s foreign minister,” said the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk about the issue.
Japan welcomed Fiji’s promise to hold elections and constitutional talks, but “there are some negative moves such as enacting a law that could restrict human rights”, he said.
The decision was made after Tokyo held “intense consultations with Australia, New Zealand, the United States” and others.
The issue was discussed during a meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and his Australian counterpart Bob Carr in Tokyo this week, he said.
When Bainimarama seized power, he said he planned to root out corruption and introduce a one-person, one-vote system intended to end entrenched racial inequalities in the nation of 840,000.
But he subsequently reneged on a promise to hold elections in 2009, tore up the constitution and introduced emergency measures that muzzled the media and banned public meetings.
Earlier this year, the strongman unveiled plans to create a new constitution ahead of a vote in 2014 and repealed emergency laws, but he also strengthened decrees giving the police and military sweeping powers.
Carr welcomed the decision to exclude Bainimarama, whose country is suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, a key regional grouping.
“Our view is that we maintain our position on Fiji until we have been persuaded that the process of constitutional consultation is thoroughly open,” he said, The Australian newspaper reported.
“There have been encouraging signs in Fiji but the continuing process of consultation about a new constitution has some distance to go. But there should be no weakening of our position until democratic norms have been reinstated.”
PALM, which begins in Okinawa on May 25, includes Japan, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Austra