Dec 16, 2007

Pacific Watch : Has Niue's Constitutional Status Changed?

We are sorry to be so regularly critical of the New Zealand media (and in this case also the National opposition), but they do continue to let interesting developments fly by with little or no scrutiny. So to help on the analysis side we have decided to run a regular post focusing on that troubled region to our immediate north - the Pacific. We hope that this will stimulate interest here in New Zealand and satisfy the interests of our growing readership in other countries (particularly The Hive's growing readership in other capitals particularly Washington D.C and Canberra).

As a first entry in Pacific Watch, we focus on the announcement that on 12 November Niue and China had signed a communique establishing diplomatic relations.

This development didn't fly past without some scrutiny. Radio New Zealand International reported the development and the views of political scientist and former Prime Ministerial advisor Dr John Henderson who suggested that New Zealand should be worried about this development. Henerson also implies that this was a failure of New Zealand diplomacy as we had tried to discourage the establishment of formal links between Niue and China.

Now it is clear what Niue's motivation was - money. After a visit in the middle of the year there were reports that the price was NZ$1.7 million. Other reports talk of assistance in the hotel and telecommunications area.

But what interests The Hive is whether Niue is actually able to establish full diplomatic relations with China, or anyone else, given that it is not responsible for its foreign relations or defence. Niue's is self governing in free association with New Zealand (this is why Niueans can travel to and work in New Zealand without restriction) . This means that it is responsible for its internal affairs but foreign relations and defence are the responsibility of New Zealand, which already has full diplomatic relations with China. To make things further complicated the Joint Communique signed by Niue is different in its treatment of the Taiwan question to that which New Zealand and China agreed. New Zealand "acknowledged" China's position on Taiwan. It has never necessarily agreed with it. Yet Niue "recognizes that there is only one China in the world, the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of China." So this is what China paid its $1.7 million for.

Constitutional issues aside, The Hive is concerned that the Taiwan-China competition has now spread to another Pacific territory. Where one goes the other follows, and the result is often the offering of bribes or incentives which tend to destabilise. In the worst case scenario you get a complete melt down as happened in the Solomon Islands. With Niue relying on New Zealand for its foreign relations and defence Niue seemed to be immune from this disease. Not now. And what next, see our post on Jane Kelsey's views on Cuba and Venezuela and the Pacific.

But back to the constitutional question - can Niue have it both ways - can Niueans continue to be essentially New Zealanders, benefiting from the free association with New Zealand, much higher aid per capita from New Zealand than is the norm, from New Zealand responsibility for Niue's defence etc and being able to ignore New Zealand's advice and establish an independent foreign policy? This is what we would like to see debated.