Friday, February 4, 2011

Articles: Series on an 'Inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with South Pacific countries' (Tonga Chronicle)

Cleo Paskal has been doing a series for the Tonga Chronicle on New Zealand's thinking on the Pacific. In December 2010, the Government of New Zealand released an Inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with South Pacific countries. The report is the Government of New Zealand’s biggest public rethink on South Pacific issues since the end of the Cold War. So far three articles have run in the series.

The first article looked at what the Inquiry said about New Zealand's track record in the Pacific, and about how the Inquiry positioned New Zealand in the Pacific. An excerpt:

As the report makes clear, New Zealand considers itself a dominant force in the Pacific. According to the Inquiry: “from the standpoint of an islander on a Pacific atoll, or that of a European, Asian, or American, New Zealand is one of the two main influences in this region”, the other being Australia. [...] There

 is a strategic value in the claim. The Inquiry states that “New Zealand has an obligation to countries beyond the region to pull its weight in promoting stability and prosperity in the Pacific region.”

And that: “If New Zealand does not give sufficient attention to the Pacific this will allow other players who may be less attuned to Pacific issues and aspirations to take on larger roles and exercise more influence.”

The Inquiry makes it clear that fulfilling its “obligation” to outside nations has practical benefits for Wellington: “The region is central to New Zealand’s security and defence policy because of its […] importance to New Zealand diplomacy.”

This means that if a New Zealand diplomat is sitting at a negotiation in London, he is not just representing a small, militarily minor nation of 4 million, but rather an extensive piece of geostrategic and commercially valuable (if only due to seabed mining potential) geopolitical real estate.

This affords the diplomat a seat at the high table, but only if he can really deliver the Pacific. This puts pressure on New Zealand (and Australia) to effectively manage the region.

And, increasingly, that is not the case. Fiji slipped out of their grasp, China is making quick economic (and increasingly political) inroads, even the Arab League is starting to make its presence felt.

The second article looks at the Inquiry's framing of the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue as being part of the 'Realm of New Zealand', and what that might imply. An excerpt:

According to the Inquiry, the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue are part of the “Realm of New Zealand”. Some of the main recommendations involve methods to “harmonize” the education, health, law and order and justice systems of “Realm entities” with those in New Zealand. This would mean that a school or land law in, say, Tokelau would be similar to what would be found in a small New Zealand town.

The third article looks at what the Inquiry says about Tonga - New Zealand relations. An excerpt:

All in all, it seems the Inquiry doesn’t really know what to do about Tonga.

It acknowledges that the elections were fair, while reluctant to give up the instability narrative.

It acknowledges that there are problems accessing New Zealand markets, and praises Tonga’s “strong entrepreneurial community”. But stops short of properly analyzing how New Zealand products and policies have affected Tongan economic development.

It acknowledges there is a health crisis in Tonga, but not New Zealand’s role (and economic benefit) in its creation.

Nor does it acknowledge that New Zealand makes much more revenue out of Tonga and Tongans than it transfers to the nation in ‘aid’ (much of which is “tied aid” anyway, and ends up benefiting New Zealanders and New Zealand products).

It also seems to have a default position of invoking the New Zealand private sector as a solution whenever possible.

This is all perfectly normal as it is the New Zealand government’s job to benefit the New Zealand people.

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