Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

New Zealand and the Pacific: Gerald McGhie Argues the Need for Increasing New Zealand's Attention to Its South Pacific Neighbourhood

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

New Zealand and the Pacific: Gerald McGhie Argues the Need for Increasing New Zealand's Attention to Its South Pacific Neighbourhood

Article excerpt

Two recently completed studies on, respectively, foreign policy (1) and development (2) form an expression of official concern at developments in the Pacific. The Ministry of Defence is also reviewing its approach to the Pacific as New Zealand comes to grips with the changes occurring in its northern neighbourhood.

New Zealand's interest in what is, in effect, the South-west Pacific is almost as old as its identity as a nation in the modern era and, traditionally, it was seen pretty much in strategic terms. As former Premier Whittaker argued, `all we want to prevent is the islands being taken by any foreign power which in time of war might involve danger to these colonies. (3) Later, the Pacific was seen as strategically vital during the Second World War, but, as Mary Boyd says, `the whole area [became] strategically unimportant in peacetime'. (4) ANZUS's main concern was that, as the respective Island groups approached independence, sufficient internal unity was maintained for them to mobilise their resources to improve living standards and education. Boyd saw the prospects for internal unity being `largely determined by the working out of the process of decolonisation and economic development programmes'. (5)

Boyd, who drew a distinction between Polynesia and Melanesia, referred to `false' decolonisation, which she saw as a process of transferring power to a small political elite without making any fundamental changes in the structure and institutions of a largely traditional society. This failure, she said, would lead to class or communal strife and `Balkanisation'. (6) The list of problems facing the newly independent states makes familiar, daunting and rather prescient reading today. These included small size, geographical remoteness, political and social fragmentation, economic non-viability and lack of higher education. Concern was expressed about the suitability of the Westminster system of government in backward, poor and scattered island territories. (7) The list referred to `Brobdignagian' governments in `Lilliputian' states. In the light of recent developments in Solomon Islands the comment of a school-teacher at independence in that tragic country is poignant: `any change and development to come must be based on what is good for our culture. Only then will developments be understood and have meaning'. (8) Sir Guy Powles, a former High Commissioner to Western Samoa, underlined why the Pacific should remain a continuing involvement for New Zealand: `We are responsible for the creation of independent, economically non-viable states, so we have a long run responsibility to support their economically non-viable independence'. (9)

Official attitudes

The official studies undertaken recently reflect pre-independence analysis and show a remarkable degree of confluence in their view of developments in the Pacific. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade study comments on:

* Resource pressures (particularly population growth eroding any gains made in per capita income. Melanesia has been hard hit by resource pressures. Polynesia has been able to take advantage of migration. But it tends to be on land related issues that traditional forms of ownership and the forces of globalisation collide).

* Governance. (justice and governmental systems out of sync with their peoples plus rather wayward standards of administrative practice too often mean that populations lose confidence in their governments to assist them). (10)

* Human rights (individual rights enshrined in the respective Island constitutions often sit uncomfortably with traditional practice).

* Modern influences (material available on the Internet is often at variance with the traditional values of the society as a whole).

* Globalisation (for the only partially monetarised economies of the Pacific, open market strategies can have a severe impact--particularly where there is no formal social safety net). …

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