THE APPOINTMENT OF NANAIA MAHUTA as New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister was hailed as a triumph for indigenous peoples everywhere. Now, at last, the foreign policy of Aotearoa-New Zealand could move beyond the very white and very male perspectives of her predecessors. (A group which, sadly, includes Winston Peters.)
As the Māori development minister who commissioned the controversial He Puapua Report, Mahuta gave every appearance of wanting to bring a new and radical perspective to the task of representing a state born of, and still very much a prey to, the historical processes of colonialism and imperialism.
As late as November 2021, Mahuta was still signalling that hers was a perspective distinct from those of most of New Zealand’s friends and allies:
Our connection to the Pacific is reflected through language, peoples, ocean, history, culture, politics, and shared interests. Together, we share kaitiaki responsibilities for Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa — the Blue Ocean Continent. This concept is enduring and inter-generational: what we do for our children today, sets the course for our tamariki and mokopuna. When we consider livelihoods we speak to intergenerational objectives.
Set alongside her earlier statements suggesting a measure of diplomatic separation between New Zealand’s perspectives and those of its “Five Eyes” partners, Mahuta’s remarks to the NZ Institute of International Affairs continued to sustain the hope that she remained determined to give her country’s “independent foreign policy” a decidedly indigenous inflection.
It was not to be. When push comes to shove in the Pacific, New Zealand will always find itself among the pushed and the shoved. No matter how fervently factions in the NZ Defence Force and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT) might wish it, this country is unlikely to ever be included among the major-league pushers and the shovers. In the five-fingered Anglo-Saxon fist, New Zealand’s is the “pinky” finger – attached to, but wielding no power over the much larger and stronger fingers of the USA, UK, Canada and Australia.
But, if New Zealand possesses insufficient heft to push upwards, or shove outwards, it is regarded by its big Anglo-Saxon brothers as having more than enough power to push downwards on the micro-states of the Pacific. The countries it locates, condescendingly, in New Zealand’s “back-yard”.
In a division of diplomatic labour indistinguishable from the imperialistic carve-ups of the Nineteenth Century, Australia has arrogated unto itself the responsibility for keeping the independent nations of Melanesia in line. New Zealand’s job is to do the same in Polynesia.
Like a couple of pith-helmeted district officers of the British Raj, the two “White Dominions” of the Southern Hemisphere are positioned side-by-side on the imperial verandah, sipping their gin-and-tonics, and keeping a watchful eye on the “natives” of the Blue Ocean Continent.
Clearly, it was too much to hope that Mahuta might balk at this grotesque assignment. That she might simply refuse to act as the Five Eyes’ policewoman in the South Pacific. Sadly, Mahuta’s response to Solomon Islands’ decision to sign a security agreement with the People’s Republic of China has been everything her Anglo-Saxon bosses could wish for.
Not only have she and her fellow Labour Māori Caucus member, Defence Minister Peeni Henare, flown off to Fiji to sign the “Duavata Partnership”, a beefed-up climatic, economic and defence deal with the Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, but Mahuta has also introduced a whole new term to the geopolitical lexicon – “Regional Sovereignty”.
Speculating that the actions of the Solomon Island’s government might necessitate a bringing forward of the scheduled meeting of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) in June, Mahuta declared:
It’s my view that several of the Pacific nations will want greater clarity from the Solomons around the nature of those agreements, and the extent to which the sovereign interests of Solomons may well impact on the regional sovereignty and security interests of the Pacific.
Clearly, it is Mahuta’s view (and presumably the view of her advisors at MFAT) that while the Solomon Islands, as an independent nation state and member of the United Nations, possesses, along with all other states, “sovereign interests” to advance and protect according to its own best judgement; the “Blue Ocean Continent”, which, as a mere figure of speech, cannot claim the rights of an independent nation state, nor become a member of the United Nations, nevertheless possesses regional sovereign interests of its own.
Further implied, in this new coinage of Mahuta’s, is that “regional sovereignty” trumps national sovereignty. Bluntly: Honiara proposes, but the PIF (i.e. Australia and New Zealand) disposes.
Not only is this concept new, but it is also profoundly pernicious. With the undoubted backing of New Zealand’s Five Eyes “partners”, Mahuta is asserting the right of Solomon Islands’ neighbours to determine its foreign and defence policies.
A century-and-a-half ago, the high point of the Age of Imperialism, such an overt curtailment of national sovereignty would have been described as transforming what was formerly independent territory into a “protectorate” of one of the great imperial powers. In the Solomon’s case, the “protectors” are the five English-speaking nations which have, since the end of the Second World War, looked upon the Pacific Ocean as an Anglo-Saxon lake.
So much for the “Pacific resilience” about which Mahuta boasted in her speech to the NZIIA last November. New Zealand’s foreign minister is openly participating in the restoration of Anglo-Saxon imperialism across the “Blue Ocean Continent” – for no better reason than to keep her country’s largest and most important trading partner out of it.
China will draw its own conclusions. And so, too, if it has any instinct for national self-preservation, will the Solomon Islands.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 5 April 2022.
At last the chance once again for this country to stand on its own hind legs and assert its own sovereignty and independent foreign policy - wantonly thrown away upon the altar of racial prejudice and US global 'Full Spectrum Dominance'. Given the United States' colonial track record over more than two centuries and still ongoing, its attitude in respect of China's emergence as a genuine global power ought to be to rich for our blood.
It seems that what the US has done: destroyed nations, wantonly attacked more, enslaved others yet, massacred tens of millions, 'we lied, we stole, we cheated' (Pompeo); counts as nothing beside what China 'might' (with the attendant possibility of 'might not') do.
It can't be said that the records of Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific stands up to close scrutiny, either...
Talk about 'projection'.
Ion A. Dowman
Anglo-Saxon Imperialism? Wait until you get a taste of Chinese Imperialism under Xi Xinping, as Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong already have and as Taiwan lives in fear of every day. The militarisation of the Western Pacific by a hostile, genocidal major military power is a nightmare now being made real. Through naked corruption of the local elites China has bought itself a land-based carrier which is a major threat to the sovereignty of every country in the region. And you're okay with that?
Just a small point. Mahuta does not arbitrarily make NZ Government Foreign Policy.
She has input, sure.
But she has to follow Cabinet and Caucus direction.
I feel a rare need to defend Winston Peters. In Samoa he has always been highly respected, despite what you would expect in regard to some of his immigration policies. He was given the matai title, Vaovasamanaia. This is a chiefly title and most Samoans recognize Peters by this honorific. It is sometimes easy to presume how others are perceived in different countries and cultures, but sometimes it can go deeper than presumption.
Both Peters and Mahuta have considerable mana in the Pacific, both express their mana in differing ways and both are accorded mana in different ways. It is wrong to suggest that Peters would be seen as an Anglo stand in, or that Mahuta would be seen culturally separate from the NZ Government. Both carry the personal mana and that of the state.
Mana is a specifically Pasifika expression of an understanding of prestige and 'face' which has commonality in East Asia. New Zealand has a better understanding of this than Australia, Britain or the States, and as such we can be seen as part of the Pacific, not overlords. This can be seen by our immediate cooperative agreement with Fiji, which had headed the Melanesian Spearhead Group - which includes the Solomon Islands. This shows an extension of the 'get alongside' strategy of the Ardern Pacific reset.
Archduke you sound learned and wise as Sir Geoffrey Palmer did Perhaps you could try and advise the government and they might listen to you. Palmer was Prime Minister for a short while in the late 1980s. He wrote a book but didn't seem to lead to change for the better.
If he still feels up to it, it would be an interesting thing to ascertain where he felt the most propitious opening to effectiveness now would be?
When, in 1984, the Labour Party won the general elections, Palmer became Deputy Prime Minister of the Fourth Labour Government. He also became Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. The new justice minister, who had promoted proportional representation as a law professor in his book Unbridled Power?, also published in 1984, set up a Royal Commission to investigate the electoral system and propose modifications or alternatives. His Royal Commission reported in December 1986 recommending the mixed-member proportional representation system. After the 1987 elections, when Labour was re-elected, he also became Minister of the Environment, an area in which he took personal interest....
He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1991 New Year Honours*...
In September 2016, Palmer and legal academic Andrew Butler published A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand. In this book the pair outlined their arguments for New Zealand to adopt a written Constitution, and also drafted out what this would look like. They then invited public submissions on the subject online and spent a year promoting the book and their campaign. The pair released a second book in 2018, Towards Democratic Renewal, that amends some of their proposal in the previous text and further argues their cause for a written Constitution, taking on board the response of the public. This campaign is ongoing...
* Honours and awards
Palmer was appointed a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council in 1985. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1991 New Year Honours, and made an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in the same year. In 1991 he was listed on the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honour for his work on environmental issues. These included reforming resource management law. Palmer also sat as a Judge ad hoc on the International Court of Justice in 1995. He holds honorary doctorates from three universities. In 2008 Palmer was one of the first people appointed as Senior Counsel during the temporary change from Queen's Counsel in the Helen Clark Government. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Palmer_(politician)#Honours_and_awards
He and Andrew Butler have tried to make their way through the swamp of NZ politics for a long time but haven't succeeded yet. Might he have some fruitful ideas, or have the fruitflies spoiled them?
Unbridled Power: An Interpretation of New Zealand's ...
https://www.amazon.com › Unbridled-Power-Interpreta...
Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Geoffrey Palmer is former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Professor of Law at Victoria University of Wellington ...
Geoff Palmer had a huge role in NZ's adoption of MMP, which transformed our politics. He should rest on his laurels.
His and others' efforts to promote a written constitution have little or no chance of success and are best ignored.
Soon enough, the world's existing constitutions will be suspended as part of desperate, last-minute attempts to avert planetary climate collapse...
I hated Palmer's appearances on Kim Hill's morning show on National Radio, as so he was a respected figure, rather than an over-thrower of the people's rule. Him reporting from American colleges. He was a duffer. What did the great Henri lV call James l? -- the wisest fool in Christendom.
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