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Story: Pacific Islands and New Zealand

As an island nation in the South Pacific, New Zealand has long had strong cultural, economic and political links with other Pacific Islands. Samoa, the Cook Islands and Niue were territories under New Zealand administration in the 20th century, and substantial waves of migration after the Second World War have led to a large Pacific population in New Zealand.

Story by Jon Fraenkel
Main image: Building a soap factory, Vanuatu, 2008

Story Summary

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Although small in international terms, New Zealand is relatively large and powerful in the Pacific. Foreign policy has focused on achieving or sustaining political stability, and on trade, development aid and managing political crises. The Pacific Islands Forum, the main regional political body, was set up in 1971.

Immigration and aid

After the Second World War, close links, job opportunities and population pressure on some islands led many Pacific peoples to migrate to New Zealand. During the 1970s the government clamped down on people overstaying their visas, particularly targeting Pacific Islanders.

In 2011 about 8% of New Zealand’s population were of Pacific descent, and over half of New Zealand aid went to the Pacific.

Colonisation and trade

The ancestors of Māori came to New Zealand from Polynesia around 1250–1300. From the late 18th century Pacific-bound whaling ships visited New Zealand, and in the 19th century many politicians advocated colonising the Pacific Islands.

Samoa

After Germany withdrew from the Pacific during the First World War, Western Samoa came under New Zealand control. From 1927 the Mau movement pushed for self-government. New Zealand reacted harshly, arresting Mau supporters and firing on a peaceful protest in 1929, killing at least nine Samoans. However, New Zealand later supported Samoa becoming independent, in 1962.

Cook Islands and Niue

The Cook Islands and Niue became New Zealand’s first Pacific colonies in 1901. From 1965 the Cooks were self-governing; so was Niue from 1974. Cook Islanders and Niueans remained New Zealand citizens.

Tokelau

Tokelau came under New Zealand control in 1925. In 2012 it remained a dependent territory. Tokelauans are New Zealand citizens.

Fiji

From the 19th century Fiji supplied unprocessed sugar to New Zealand factories. A British colony from 1874, it became independent in 1970. New Zealand was involved in attempts to stabilise Fiji after a series of coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006.

Tonga

In 2006 New Zealand troops were sent to Tonga after riots in Nuku’alofa, and in 2010 King George Tupou V agreed to new democratic arrangements.

Melanesia

  • In the 19th century New Zealand missionaries were active in Melanesia.
  • During the Second World War New Zealand troops fought the Japanese in the Solomon Islands.
  • In the 1990s New Zealand helped broker a peace agreement in Bougainville.
  • After a coup in the Solomon Islands in 2000, New Zealanders attempted to resolve the crisis, and from mid-2003 took part in a multinational force in the Solomons.
How to cite this page:

Jon Fraenkel, 'Pacific Islands and New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/pacific-islands-and-new-zealand (accessed 21 October 2017)

Story by Jon Fraenkel, published 20 Jun 2012