Pacific reset on the cards in Ardern’s majority government

Balaji Chandramohan

Balaji Chandramohan

New Delhi, November 18, 2020

Jacinda Ardern at the Pacific Islands Forum Summit held in Tuvalu in August 2019 (RNZ Picture by Yvette McCullough)

With Jacinda Ardern taking charge of the government for a second term, this time with a full majority, Wellington’s policy towards the Pacific Islands will be a matter of interest.

To start with, new Foreign Minister Nanaia  Mahuta will do game-changing work as the first woman (and first Māori woman) to hold the portfolio.

Ms Arden has scored high with her compassionate approach to the people of Pacific Islands and embraced the region with charisma. She (and her Labour Party) did extremely well at the general election held on October 17, 2020 in the strategic electorates of Auckland, among the reasons for which is the paradigm approach towards the Pacific, getting the Islander population to vote.

New Zealand can be proud of its inclusive and understanding attitude, markedly different from that of Australia. Ms Ardern has made a point that New Zealand has much firmer roots in the Pacific than Australia thereby making credible claims for better relations with the member countries.

The Tuvalu Summit

New Zealand’s marked departure towards the Pacific Islands, in general, was reflected during 2018 Pacific Islands Summit held in Tuvalu. Leader of these countries were impressed by the leadership qualities of Ms Ardern, again, scoring above Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The charismatic Leader continues to advocate the importance of the Pacific Islands in the geopolitical thinking of New Zealand.

To a large extent, this stance also reflects the Labour Party’s long-held position towards the Pacific Islands Forum, dating back to the days of Peter Fraser, Walt Nash and Helen Clark.

I expect New Zealand to facilitate Fiji’s entry to the Polynesian Spearhead Group, a regional multi-lateral forum for Polynesians. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Pacific Islands Forum Leaders held in Tuvalu in August 2019 (RNZ Picture by Yvette McCullough)

The Biketawa Declaration

New Zealand will push for the Biketawa Declaration 2.0.

The original security statement was agreed by PIF Leaders in 2000, after a coup in Fiji and ethnic tensions in the Solomon Islands.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands was enabled under the Biketawa Declaration, under which Forum countries could form a mission and send it to a member country upon request by the latter.

New Zealand’s then Prime Minister Helen Clark played a major role and I believe that Ms Ardern will follow suit and involve New Zealand to be a part of Biketawa Declaration 2.0.

New Zealand will also develop a Defence White Paper by next year, which will provide a clear picture of the country’s strategic intention in the Pacific.

New Zealand has understood the importance of Pacific Islands.

We can expect significant developments over the next three years.

Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in New Delhi. He evinces great interest on Defence, Pacific Island and related matters.

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