Although a small nation 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 people 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.
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 Western 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 came under New Zealand control in 1925. In 2020 it remained a dependent territory. Tokelauans are New Zealand citizens.
From the 19th century Fiji supplied unprocessed sugar to New Zealand factories. A British colony from 1874, it became an independent democracy in 1970. New Zealand was involved in attempts to stabilise Fiji after coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006.
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.
- 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 2003 until 2017 took part in a multinational force in the Solomons.