On 15 October, the Mission facilitated a bilateral meeting between Fiji Head of Delegation, Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr. Esala Nayasi and the Deputy Director General of Asia and Pacific Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Korea Mr. Lee Sang-ryol on the margins of the 6th ROK-PIC Senior Officials Meeting, in Busan, Korea.
A number of issues were discussed at the bilateral meeting including issues relating to the modality of the ROK-PICS meetings. Due to the different levels of relations the PICs have with the Republic of Korea, it was recommended that at least one and a half days be scheduled for future ROK-PIC Senior Officials Meeting instead of only one day, as per the norm. It was also recommended if the first half day could be allocated for information sharing by delegations and if the second day could be allocated proper for the SOM. This would address the issue of ‘rushing through’ topics and issues and would allow for better summarized discussions to be presented to foreign ministers during FMMs. Korea expressed concerns similar to the 2018 meeting on the vast range of topics that needed to be covered. Korea informs of its intention to upgrade the dialogue to Summit-level and MOFA Korea would need to consult the Minister Foreign Affairs of Korea before an update is provided at the Foreign Ministers Meeting (FMM) in 2020. On other modalities, the membership of the ROK-PICs was also discussed with Korea reaffirming that this yearly meeting (ROK-PIC SOM) is only between ROK and the Pacific Island Countries, ‘not’ Pacific Island Forum Countries. Fiji supports the process with which ROK, a development partner, wishes to engage with the Pacific Island Countries and how ROK wishes to carry out its dialogue with the fourteen (14) countries.
There were a number of bilateral issues which were discussed such as labor mobility, the extradition treaty, the KOICA development framework agreement, air services agreement and so forth. There have been success stories with the Seychelles and Australia and NZ seasonal worker schemes and Fiji sees potential with Korea for a labor mobility scheme. The Seasonal Employment System – is open to all countries and targets rural villages; to work in Korea during harvest seasons for up to three (3) months. This system is only for unskilled laborers and may be utilized as an ‘introductory step’ to Labor Mobility. The Fijian side has recommended if an MOU could be established between Fiji and the local governments in Korea, and Fiji may approach Korea formally with a request for dispatch of workforce to Korea under this system as the Ministry of Labor for Korea is firm with its position with regards to the limitations placed on the recruitment of foreign workers from 16 designated countries in Asia.
On treaties and agreements, the extradition treaty is currently with Fiji SGO and needs cabinet approval before signing. Fiji has yet to revert with an update to Korea. On the development framework agreement with KOICA, it is pending with Fiji with the Ministry of Economy.
There was also discussion on the cease of the Korean Air flights to Fiji. If the fourteen (14) Pacific countries at the SOM collectively raised concerns on suspended flights to Fiji, this will be reflected in the Chair’s Summary statement and will support Ministry of Foreign Affairs ROK (MFA-ROK) talks with Korean Air on resuming the flights. This discussion was complemented by approaches from Japan or Korea for Airline Service to Fiji. Korea enquired on the current flight arrangements into and out of Fiji. China has approached Fiji for a flight arrangement, but Fiji has been delaying this agreement due to security concerns and necessary border checks carried out by Fiji. Currently there are charter flights to Fiji from China during Chinese New Year celebrations. There are currently three (3) flights between Fiji and Japan – Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. There have also been intentions by Japan to fly its own carriers in/from Fiji. Given that Korean Air has suspended its flights to Fiji, Japan might again show its interest to fly into Fiji (although Korea is more convenient for Fijians, providing easier access into the West and Europe). It was also noted that Samoa now has its national airline with its airport built by China, although demand may not be as big as Fiji.
On the regional front and on Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) as dialogue partner, Fiji raised the issue of PIDF and that ROK might wish to consider PIDF when considering its future engagements with the Pacific. The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is a political platform whilst PIDF is technical in nature and will be able to work more closely and collaborate with KOICA and other programs to ensure better engagement in the future. It is noted that PIDF is an international organization and funds channeled to this will be considered ODA under OECD listing.
Fiji assured ROK of its support on its decisions and prerogative through this Forum. The possibility of setting up an office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Korea entire dedicated for Pacific Island Countries should be explored – this will facilitate the mobilizing of financial resources easily when lobbying the Ministry of Finance Korea for funds.