On the one hand we have the Prime Minister blithely suggesting that we should continue to freeze out Fiji and on the other hand our Trade Minister talking up a storm about free trade agreements with less than democratic nations, showing once again our strange foreign policy hypocrisy to the world:
Trade Minister Tim Groser yesterday announced that New Zealand was joining an initiative to create a huge free trade region.
If the agreement succeeds it would cover an area with more than three billion people, 43 per cent of the world’s population.
Mr Groser has been in Cambodia this week for trade meetings hosted by Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The countries which have agreed to the initiative are the 10 Asean countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines – and six countries with which Asean has existing free trade agreements: China, India, Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Let’s look at those countries shall we…since we insist on forcing Fiji to have a system of government like ours, and highlighting civil rights and free press and independent judiciary:
Indonesia: hardly the stand up country when it comes to human and civil rights. They occupied East Timor for more than 25 years, including massive civil rights abuses of the East Timorese population. They continue to fight seperatists in Aceh and have only had one direct presidential election since Suharto’s resignation, which was held in 2004.
Malaysia: Ostensibly a democracy but with ongoing persecution of opposition politicians in partiucular the persecution on trumped up charges of sodomy against Anwar Ibrahim, and a less than free media.Islamic fundamentalism is growing in Malaysia.
Singapore: Is barely a democracy:
The People’s Action Party has won every election since self-government in 1959, and governs on the basis of a strong state and prioritising collective welfare over individual rights such as freedom of speech, an approach that has attracted criticism from organisations such as Freedom House.
That is an amazing string of electoral good luck. Tight government controls exist particularly with regards to freedom of speech and freedom of association:
In 2011, in the World Justice Project‘s Rule of Law Index Singapore was ranked in the top countries surveyed in “Order and Security”, “Absence of Corruption”, and “Effective Criminal Justice”. However, it scored very low for both “Freedom of Speech” and “Freedom of Assembly”. All public gatherings of five or more people require police permits, and protests may only be legally held at Speakers’ Corner.
Brunei: The personal fiefdom of teh Sultan of Brunei, with few if any democratic processes in place. The country has been under martial law since 1962. Despite a lack of democracy the government regularly fetes the Sultan of Brunei and allows him to maintain an extensive property portfolio in Auckland, and travel with freedom in his own jet which is often parked up at Auckland. Media are tightly controled:
The country has been given “Not Free” status by Freedom House; press criticism of the government and monarchy is rare.[
Myanmar (Burma): A military dictatorship, where the NZ Government is more than happy for SOEs like Kordia to make millions from a government that is rife with human rights abuses and of course actively and violently suppresses the opposition.
The United Nations and several other organizations have reported consistent and systematic human rights violations in the country, including genocide,child labour, human trafficking and a lack of freedom of speech. In recent years the country and its military leadership have made huge concessions to democratic activists and are slowly improving relations with the major powers and the UN.
Thailand: Any government in Thailand serves at the pleasure of the King. They have had more coups since the formation of the country than any other in the region. Yet New Zealand already has a Free Trade Agreement with them. Since the country was founded in modern times in 1932, ironically by a coup, they have had coups and/or insurrections in 1932, 1933, 1938, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1957, and 1973.
The history of Thailand from 1932 to 1973 was dominated by military dictatorships which were in power for much of the period.
The most recent coup was in 2006 when Thaksin Shinwatra was overthrown, and a in 2010 there was a “judicial coup”:
Immediately following what many media described as a “judicial coup”, a senior member of the Armed Forces met with factions of the governing coalition to get their members to join the opposition and the Democrat Party was able to form a government, a first for the party since 2001. The leader of the Democrat party, and former leader of the opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed and sworn-in as the 27th Prime Minister, together with the new cabinet on 17 December 2008.
In of April 2010, a set of new protests by the Red Shirt opposition movement resulted in 87 deaths (mostly civilian and some military) and 1,378 injured. When the army tried to disperse the protesters on 10 April 2010, the army was met with automatic gunfire, grenades, and fire bombs from the opposition faction in the army, known as the “watermelon”. This resulted in the army returning fire with rubber bullets and some live ammunition. During the time of the “red shirt” protests against the government, there have been numerous grenade and bomb attacks against government offices and the homes of government officials. Grenades were fired at protesters, that were protesting against the “red shirts” and for the government, by unknown gunmen killing one pro-government protester, the government stated that the Red Shirts were firing the weapons at civilians.
There is far more of a coup culture in Thailand but we are yet to see travel bans for members of the government, travel warnings or sanctions, instead New Zealand gave them a FTA.
Cambodia: is recovering from the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent Vietnamese occupation.
Hun Sen and his government have seen much controversy. Hun Sen was a former Khmer Rouge commander who was originally installed by the Vietnamese and, after the Vietnamese left the country, maintains his strong man position by violence and oppression when deemed necessary. In 1997, fearing the growing power of his co-Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun launched a coup, using the army to purge Ranariddh and his supporters. Ranariddh was ousted and fled to Paris while other opponents of Hun Sen were arrested, tortured and some summarily executed.
In addition to political oppression, the Cambodian government has been accused of corruption in the sale of vast areas of land to foreign investors resulting in the eviction of thousands of villagers as well as taking bribes in exchange for grants to exploit Cambodia’s oil wealth and mineral resources. Cambodia is consistently listed as one of the most corrupt governments in the world.
Laos: A single party communist dictatorship. Their human rights record is appalling. no democracy here, no press freedoms, no indepedent judiciary…but welcome into a Free Trade Agreement while we shun Fiji.
Vietnam: A Single party communist dictatorship controlled by the military. Media freedoms are non existant:
Vietnam’s media sector is regulated by the government in accordance with the 2004 Law on Publication. It is generally perceived that Vietnam’s media sector is controlled by the government to follow the official communist party line, though some newspapers are relatively outspoken. The Voice of Vietnam is the official state-run national radio broadcasting service, broadcasting internationally via shortwave using rented transmitters in other countries, and providing broadcasts from its website. Vietnam Television is the national television broadcasting company.
Since 1997, Vietnam has extensively regulated public Internet access, using both legal and technical means. The resulting lockdown is widely referred to as the “Bamboo Firewall.” The collaborative project OpenNet Initiative classifies Vietnam’s level of online political censorship to be “pervasive”, while Reporters without Borders considers Vietnam to be one of 15 global “internet enemies”.
Philippines: The only real democracy in the countries listed above. Still not without a history of military control at some points and some coup culture.
When you see it all listed there you really wonder why we continue to freeze out Fiji when it appears we are quite prepared to deal with Military Dictatorships, Communist states and corrupt demagogues. It must be interesting to try and justify all that inside MFaT while at the same time running the silly policies we have against Fiji.