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Fiji’s Prime Minister Advocates for “Ocean of Peace” Amidst Foreign Policy Strains

Photo: AFP/Prime-Minister of Fiji

In the capital city of Canberra, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka of Fiji charmed an attentive audience with a tale of resolve and emergency action, as he detailed the rapid evacuation of nearly 200 Fijian pilgrims and international travelers from Tel Aviv amid escalating tensions in the region. This narrative emerges against the backdrop of a recent attack by Palestinian militants on Israeli citizens on October 7, highlighting the volatility of the geopolitical landscape in which Fiji must navigate. Prime Minister Rabuka’s “Ocean of Peace” initiative is his latest contribution to Fiji’s diplomatic rhetoric, yet it surfaces amidst notable discordance within the Pacific nation’s foreign policy framework. The concept, aiming to position Fiji as a bastion of tranquility and stability within the international community, is put to the test as the country grapples with the realpolitik of global conflicts. The Prime Minister’s personal anecdotes of swift action in Tel Aviv provide a stark contrast to his peace-driven agenda. In his account, Rabuka described shedding his “civilian prime minister uniform” in favor of a more hands-on approach, reminiscent of his military background, to prioritize the safety of Fijians and others caught in the conflict. This action-oriented narrative underscores the pragmatic aspect of Fiji’s approach to international crises.

For approximately half of the period since Fiji gained its independence, the country’s political helm has been steered by individuals with military careers, with Rabuka and his predecessor, Frank Bainimarama, collectively leading for 27 years. The implications of this military influence are not lost on the Fijian public or the international observers who have expressed concerns regarding the potential militarization of Fiji’s civil service.
Prime Minister Rabuka has acknowledged these concerns, emphasizing the meritocratic and efficient nature of the Public Service Commission’s processes in the aftermath of the evacuation operation. “They were selected, and they were in the right place at the right time for us to very efficiently carry out that operation,” he stated, reassuring those worried about the potential overreach of military figures into civil service roles.
The juxtaposition of Fiji’s internal dynamics and its external peace advocacy presents a complex tableau. On one hand, the Prime Minister’s military past and decisive action in crisis situations underline a form of leadership that some may view as at odds with the pacific “Ocean of Peace” ideal. On the other hand, the successful evacuation demonstrates a capacity for effective crisis management that could be seen as reinforcing Fiji’s commitment to safeguarding its citizens and contributing positively to global peace efforts.
As Fiji continues to assert its role on the international stage, the world watches to see how the “Ocean of Peace” concept will coalesce with the nation’s foreign policy, especially in light of its leadership’s historical penchant for military solutions. Balancing these elements will be critical for Fiji as it seeks to harmonize its domestic leadership style with its aspirational identity as a pacific mediator and protector within the international community. 
By Sara Colin

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