Story: Foreign policy and diplomatic representation

Page 7. Decolonisation and representation in the Pacific

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South Pacific Commission

The South Pacific Commission (SPC) was an important focus for New Zealand foreign policy from the 1940s to the 1960s. The SPC was established in 1947 by six powers that administered Pacific territories, and acted as an advisory body to the participating governments on the economic and social development and welfare of the ‘native peoples’. In 1997 it became the Pacific Community. Its secretariat, based in Nouméa, New Caledonia, conducts research, recommends development measures and coordinates local projects.

Island territories

New Zealand had administered German (later Western) Samoa since it occupied it at the beginning of the First World War. It came under a League of Nations mandate and then was a UN trust territory. A high commission was established in Apia when Western Samoa (now Samoa) became independent in 1962.

Three other territories – the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau – were administered as part of New Zealand. Unlike other administering powers, New Zealand reported voluntarily on each to the UN. It invited UN observers when the Cook Islands (1965) and Niue (1974) chose self-government in free association with New Zealand, a status of less than full independence. New Zealand administration offices in both territories became commissions, in effect diplomatic posts, but named to reflect their constitutional link with New Zealand.

Cook Islands conflict

Relations between New Zealand and the Cook Islands were severely strained in 1978 when Gaven Donne, a New Zealand judge acting as the Cook Islands head of state, disallowed the results of its general election. He found that Premier Albert Henry had acted corruptly by flying in supporters from New Zealand to vote for him. A number of New Zealand police took a well-timed ‘holiday’ in the Cooks in case of possible disorder, but a peaceful change of government took place.

An independent Pacific

Other Pacific countries became independent of colonial powers in the 1970s, and New Zealand diplomatic posts followed in Fiji and Tonga (1970), Papua New Guinea (1974), the Solomon Islands (1978), Vanuatu (1987) and Kiribati (1988). Cross-accreditations (indirect representation without a regular diplomatic presence) covered other Pacific countries, including Nauru, Tuvalu, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. While undertaking the full range of diplomatic and consular functions, many Pacific posts were heavily focused on aid, provided as much for political as for developmental purposes.

The Pacific Islands Forum (originally the South Pacific Forum) was established in 1971. Unlike the South Pacific Commission, its membership is limited to countries in the Pacific – New Zealand, Australia and most smaller Pacific Island states. New Zealand diplomats played an important role in drawing up the Treaty of Rarotonga (1985) which declared forum territories nuclear-free. The forum has a secretariat based in Suva, Fiji, led by a secretary general who must be a national of a member country .

How to cite this page:

Michael Green, 'Foreign policy and diplomatic representation - Decolonisation and representation in the Pacific', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by Michael Green, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 1 May 2016