Independence and Foreign Policy: New Zealand in the World since 1935

By Malcolm McKinnon | Go to book overview

11. Power and independence in the Pacific

It is appropriate in the study of New Zealand external relations since the 1960s to separate out New Zealand relations with the Pacific1 as well as its relations with the African Commonwealth. In the case of Africa the separate treatment is justified because the issue created difficulties for National rather than Labour and brought into focus right-wing rather than left-wing nationalism. In respect of the Pacific, it might be thought that the reason for separate treatment is that New Zealand has a special role there, and also that the country has in recent decades acquired a Pacific identity. Both of these notions will be scrutinised rather than taken for granted. The starting point of this discussion is different. In its relations with most of the world, New Zealand lacks power. In the Pacific, it has it. The size of the country's economy in relationship to the Pacific, its importance in Pacific trade, as a source of aid and as a destination for migrants, its defence, political and educational relationships, the readiness with which it could collaborate with Australia on Pacific issues, not to mention more distant states like the United States and Britain, all meant that power was an inescapable issue in New Zealand-Pacific relations.

It should be evident at this point that this is an important distinction for our discussion of independence in foreign policy. The main argument of this book is that the idea of independence in New Zealand has not traditionally been about power, or the wresting of it. It has been about the articulation of interest within an accepted framework, an accepted distribution of power; and it has been about dissent, also within that framework. Until the 1980s, New Zealand applied to the conception of independence in the Pacific exactly the same kind of pattern that had characterised its view of its own independence. There were

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1
It should be noted at this point that Pacific is used in this discussion to refer to the island states and communities to New Zealand's north, stretching from New Guinea to Pitcairn, in other words what is also called the 'South Pacific'. New Zealand usage confines the word 'Pacific' in this fashion, reserving the terms 'Asia-Pacific', 'Pacific Rim' or 'Pacific Basin' for the larger region encompassing most of the Pacific Ocean's littoral. Within the island arc New Zealand's attention is focused on the island groups from Fiji in the west to the Cooks in the east. 'The Islands', a term in common use in New Zealand, is not favoured by Pacific countries themselves.

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