New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key Smiles After the General Election in Auckland.
New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key smiles after the general election in Auckland November 26, 2011. Reuters/Stringer

New Zealand has kickstarted the process of re-establishing ties with Fiji. After a long hiatus, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee undertook an official visit to the neighbouring country on Wednesday.

During the visit, New Zealand's bilateral relationship with Fiji was discussed and the minister explored the means for boosting defence ties by way of aerial surveillance and military training starting from 2015. Brownlee met his Fijian counterpart, Timoci Natuva, and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in capital Suva, reports Stuff.Co.Nz.

Military and China

Fiji is considered very strategic to the region. But the military takeover of the country in 2006 altered the balance of its foreign policy. As soon as the Western nations pulled out, the military turned to China for support. Brownlee said the priority is to rebuild the strained relationship after the military rule came to an end. The relations with New Zealand suffered in the aftermath of the coup, with the former slapping sanctions on Fiji, including travel ban on its military. Finally, the sanctions were lifted in September 2014 after the polls brought back civilian rule in the country.

The New Zealand minister told media that that Fiji is crucial to the general stability of the Pacific. But he clarified that Chinese influence in the region is not "a prime driver" in the haste for re-establishing ties. The minister said Fiji was warm to the approaches made and "we are keen to re-engage after eight years". In the meantime, China, India and Malaysia filled that gap. But, Brownlee said New Zealand has no problem as those countries are not going to walk away just "because we are back on the scene".

Fiji's Interest

Kubuabola, who met Brownlee, also underscored the need for strengthening the bilateral relations and defence cooperation. Kubuabola said Fiji is "committed to normalising bilateral relations and re-engagement," reported Shanghai Daily. The Fijian minister said the meeting was positive and informed the visiting minister from New Zealand that Fiji would be looking forward to the renewal of defence cooperation.

The two ministers noted that both Fiji and New Zealand are coastal states and possess vast maritime boundaries, which needed constant surveillance, especially in the light of illegal fishing. Fiji and New Zealand have a long history of close relationship. It dates back to World War I when the Royal New Zealand Air Force operated a base at Suva Point until it closed it in 1964.