Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

New Zealand's Pacific Policies-Time for a Reset? Anna Powles and Michael Powles Argue That a Reconsideration of New Zealand's Approach to the Pacific Islands Region Is Warranted

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

New Zealand's Pacific Policies-Time for a Reset? Anna Powles and Michael Powles Argue That a Reconsideration of New Zealand's Approach to the Pacific Islands Region Is Warranted

Article excerpt

There have been significant changes within the Pacific Islands region and its wider geopolitical environment. Uncertainties abound, both politically and environmentally. These developments have not been fully reflected in New Zealand policies. Arguably, a number of our policies no longer fully meet New Zealand interests or the interests of our neighbours. Changes and developments in the region call for consideration of a New Zealand policy reset in several areas. While most New Zealand's policies in the Pacific are successful or essential, there is scope for considering adjustment to policies that are partially successful, while some policies should be stopped, radically changed or replaced.

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Many aspects of our Pacific neighbourhood are changing. Fiji's move towards democracy, always tumultuous, remains uncertain; governance issues in Papua New Guinea, the regions largest and richest country, and elsewhere in Melanesia, particularly, hamper economic and social development and threaten political stability; Tonga wresdes with record indebtedness; and throughout the region, especially in Kiribati and Tuvalu and on low-lying islands elsewhere, rising ocean levels add a daunting additional challenge to the many others already faced by fragile communities.

Regionally, what has been called a 'New Pacific Diplomacy' has emerged and is said to be changing the substance and form of regional co-operation. (1)

It arises from the increasingly robust Pacific issue-based identity which has emerged over the past decade. It has galvanised Pacific leaders to increased regional activity and to greater participation on the global stage. A growing resistance to the traditional New Zealand-Australian-led orthodoxy has contributed significantly. And intensifying intra-regional dynamics have also informed and are shaping regional co-operation. Pacific states are very much becoming the principal players in their own region, their own 'agents of change'. Accordingly, regional structures (including the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the Pacific Islands Development Programme (PIDP), the Pacific Small Islands Developing States and the Polynesian Leaders Group) have developed. These changes are also driven by a perception that the former metropolitan powers Australia and New Zealand have become increasingly assertive in pursuing their own agendas in the region. As a result, the past 'established order' comprising the Pacific Islands Forum and its Secretariat and the organisations linked to them has faced intensified competition.

In the background, but impacting directly on the Pacific Islands region itself, dramatic changes are re-shaping the regional and global geopolitical landscape. The resurgence of a more assertive China is the single most significant factor; and now the United States, under the Trump administration, is likely to be startlingly unpredictable. At the same time, some islands countries have demonstrated confidence in their relations with the new powers in the region, especially China.

For New Zealand itself, an accompanying trend in recent years, related to all these national and regional changes, has been the overall reduction in its influence. This article contends that closer attention to New Zealand's role in the Pacific, requiring examination of current policies--where they succeed and how they might be improved--could benefit both New Zealand's interests and those of our neighbours.

There is some justification for a pride some New Zealanders express in their country's record in the Pacific. But account also needs to be taken of New Zealand's historical record, including acquiescence in blackbirding, early greedy imperial ambitions and some significant failures in the early stages of New Zealand administrations in the Pacific, particularly in Samoa.

Pacific identity

By the late 20th century, however, many New Zealand leaders spoke eloquently about the development of the country's Pacific identity and the role they saw for New Zealand in its Pacific neighbourhood. …

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