WikiLeaks cable: NZ actions in the Pacific

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

This is one of the diplomatic cables about New Zealand held by Wikileaks.

June 13, 2006


(U) Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission David R. Burnett, for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials say New Zealand's main areas of concern in the Pacific are governance, economic stability and security. New Zealand is revising its approach to and strengthening engagement with Pacific Island countries (PICs), and is coordinating more with other countries with interests in the region (notably the European Union, France, China and Japan). MFAT suggests
increased information sharing about what the United States and New Zealand are doing in the Pacific, improved coordination in regional fora (especially the Pacific Island Forum Post-Forum Dialogue), and greater dialogue in the management of Pacific fisheries as three potential areas for U.S.-New Zealand cooperation.

End summary.

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Initiating a Dialogue on Shared Pacific Interests

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2. (SBU) On June 1, DCM and Emboffs met with representatives of MFAT for a high-level discussion about New Zealand's activities and interests in the Pacific. Deputy Secretary Alan Williams led the New Zealand side, accompanied by Dell Higgie, Director of the Security Division; Heather Riddell Director of the Pacific Division; Marion Crawshaw, Deputy Director of the Pacific Division (Bilateral Relationships); and Niels Holm, Deputy Director of the Pacific Division
(Regional Relationships).

3. (C) Williams said he was struck by EAP Assistant Secretary Hill's "unrequited appetite about what New Zealand is doing in the Pacific." New Zealand and the U.S. once held regular, documented conversations on respective activities in the Pacific, but Williams said New Zealand turned off that dialogue when budget cuts constrained resources. Williams is eager to resume contact and invited Emboffs to meet with him
and the Pacific Division every five to six weeks. DCM Burnett agreed this would be helpful, noting that often our exchanges have been crisis (e.g. Solomons and Papua New Guinea) or event driven (Samoan elections) rather than proactive.

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Areas of Concern: Governance, Economic Stability and Security

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4. (C) Williams said MFAT's Statement of Intent, which outlines GNZ's overarching foreign policy goals, highlights the agency's goal of redefining engagement in the Pacific to promote regional stability and development and reduce risks to New Zealand's security and trade. He also noted that the Pacific Islands rated second only to sub-Saharan Africa for poor performance on the Millennium Development Corporation's
indicators of development.

5. (C) On governance, Williams is concerned about undemocratic trends in the so-called "Arc of Instability" encompassing Melanesia, and referred to the region as "close as we come to failed states in our region." He recognized that while New Zealand's provision of targeted development and good governance assistance to the region was expanding,
weak institutions and political instability continue to pose risks. New, more active approaches by Australia and New Zealand are needed, including in the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

6. (C) Crawshaw reported that New Zealand is (in the last eight or nine months) moving past the post coup environment in Fiji. New Zealand is watching with interest as the Prime Minster puts together Fiji's first multi-party cabinet. While not expecting the arrangement to last, MFAT views the process as a positive step toward building cross-party relationships that will later contribute to stable governance.

7. (C) While New Zealand's concerns in Melanesia are principally about governance and security issues, in Polynesia, the worry is about the lack of economic development, demographic challenges, the threat of HIV/AIDS, and land ownership issues. MFAT said the quality and nature
of the interventions made by external partners are critically important to prosperity and stability in the region: a bit more cultural sensitivity, including the need for buy-in by most governments, is definitely needed.

8. (C) "We're even facing the winds of change with long-standing Polynesian partners," Williams said, among whom "even the most successful and best governed countries are having problems with law and order such as in Tonga, which is the last of the feudal monarchies." "The king is ailing in a New Zealand hospital," Williams continued, "and we're expecting rapid and intensive change." Williams explained
that with a large population of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand (especially Polynesians), "Pacific issues quickly become domestic issues." Thus New Zealand is necessarily deeply involved in Tonga reform discussions, while flirting delicately with the bounds of interference. New Zealand concerns in Micronesia are similar to those of Polynesia.

While GNZ acknowledges that its engagement with Micronesia is less robust, it also realizes that Micronesia is a critical partner for regional economic stability, particularly for sustainable fisheries.

9. (C) As GNZ revises its engagement with the Pacific, it is adopting a listening approach in which New Zealand "has some humility that we don't have all the answers." Riddell highlighted the difficulty of promoting good governance where institutions of democracy might be incompatible with cultural structures (e.g. Solomons and Papua New Guinea) where there is not a strong sense of statehood, and where loyalties are at the sub-state level (such as provincial governments) or to particular institutions (such as the police). (NB: Andrew
Ladley, Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington -- a legal scholar focusing on democracy in Pacific -- has similar views. Ladley asserts, for example, that election processes in many Pacific countries are based on deeply ingrained patron-client relationships and institutionalized bribery. Legislators do not seek reelection to office but rather treat their terms in office as one-time opportunities to loot
government coffers and reward friends, Ladley said, resulting in high legislator turnover -- more than 80 percent in Papua New Guinea and between 60 and 70 percent throughout the Western Pacific.)

10. (C) Riddell said in these fragile democracies, there are obstacles to good governance on both the demand and supply side. People do not demand democratic governing structures because they've never had them. On the supply-side, these countries are "coming toward the end of their post-colonial generation and we're not seeing the next generation." The
DCM said because cultural institutions are breaking down, traditional processes are not in place to supply the next generation of leaders. Williams said GNZ is using its Pacific Partnership visitor program to address the leadership gap by, for example, bringing provincial governors from the Solomon Islands to New Zealand to experience New Zealand's system of governance first hand.


Economic Stagnation


11. (C) The MFAT participants lamented limited economic progress in the region. Beyond fisheries and Papua New Guinea's mineral resources, Niels Holm, Deputy Director of the Pacific Division said, the region has few natural resources on which it can rely. MFAT recognizes that trade and economic growth is not proceeding quickly enough to
respond to population growth in the Solomons and other Melanesian countries. The MFAT officials were not all doom and gloom, noting that a number of countries (even Papua New Guinea) are showing better growth than at any time over last 20 years and that regulatory reform in countries such as the Cook Islands and Samoa appear to be yielding real economic returns.

12. (C) Holm said the PICs share a number of disadvantages, such as low skills, limited natural resources, poor communications links, and rapidly declining or expanding populations. Despite the PICs' inclination to respond to these challenges individually, they would benefit from collective action, particularly for problems such as bird flu and security. The Pacific Island Forum should pull back from a bias towards policy implementation by individual governments and instead focus on defining regional policy and achieving buy-in, Holm said.

13. (C) Pacific nations are plagued by low levels of capital where governments, often the only modern institutions, are hampered by problems of culture (such as land tenure issues) and tend to excessively regulate so that "even panhandlers need a license," Holm said. Despite the fact that fisheries are the only significant natural resources in the region, Pacific nations still operate on the "Olympic principle of the first one out gets the fish" and not the principle that
sustainable fisheries is "not about managing fish but managing the fisherman," said Holm. While he noted that it was important to harmonize donor effort and minimize conflict between New Zealand, Australia, United States, China, Japan and the European Union, regional cooperation is mostly about recognizing "interdependence and promoting self-reliance and a business friendly environment."

14. (C) Expressing frustration with the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) and the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), Holm said, "until we have a regional trade framework that works, we're going to have a problem with economic stability in the region." (NB: Vince McBride, Executive Director of the Pacific Cooperation Foundation and a retired New Zealand diplomat with extensive
development experience in the Pacific, separately told Poloff that a gross Pacific Island trade imbalance in favor of Australia and New Zealand needs correction for the longer term viability of the economies of Pacific Island Countries (PICs).)


Security Concerns and Capacity Building


15. (C) On security, Higgie highlighted the PICs' acute capacity issues with meeting international counter-terrorism obligations, and said the PICs believe the international community has imposed obligations without adequate consultation. Higgie said in fact there had been
coordination with the PICs' UN missions, but that they suffer from the same type of capacity issues that afflict PICs in general (e.g. dearth of skilled personnel, insufficient financial resources, weak communications infrastructure, and -- in some cases -- lack of political will). The international community needs to consider whether it will "modulate" CT requirements to address these very real capacity issues, she added.

16. (C) The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Working Group on Counter-Terrorism (WGCT) held a regional CT tabletop exercise (Exercise Ready Pasifika) in Suva in November 2005. During the debriefing portion of the exercise, PICs representatives identified as a weakness the general lack of national frameworks for counter-terrorism. Recognizing the capacity issues faced by the PICs, Australia offered to draft a template; New Zealand further suggested drafting an "all hazards" plan, believing that it would achieve better buy-in.

Interestingly, some PICs wanted to develop stand-alone CT plans, believing that global best CT practice requires a separate plan. They did see the plans as a de facto audit tool for other action plans, such as hurricane response, however. Other PICs responded that if they faced a real problem, they would just call on New Zealand or Australia.
Higgie said she responded "fine, but have you investigated the law to see if the legal authorities are there? Can we attach Status of Forces agreements? Are there opt in/opt out clauses?" Williams added that PIF meetings had migrated to a perspective of asking how to meet national needs within a regional framework. "After all, we are ourselves a Pacific Island country," he said.


Opportunities for Cooperation

17. (C) Williams said he shared USG interest in bilateral cooperation in the Pacific, and said GNZ has also been revising its programming language to note the importance of working with the EU, Japan, and China. For example, he said, over the last six months, GNZ has increased its level of diplomatic interaction with the European Union, asking that it not ignore the Pacific in favor of Africa. GNZ has also
told Japan its interests in the region should be broader than just the International Whaling Commission (IWC). On June 21, New Zealand will host a high-level Chinese diplomat to discuss Pacific regional cooperation.

18. (C) "France has been sending signals about where it wants to be involved -- in police training and intelligence," said Williams. In May, the heads of mission from France's Pacific posts met in New Zealand. During that visit, they also met with GNZ officials to discuss mutual interests.

19. (C) "Can the region be all that it can be without U.S. involvement?" asked Williams rhetorically. "There's a lot we could and should be doing" Williams continued. For example, a Pacific Island Forum review team is investigating how to improve the quality of the dialogue from the regional architecture: the PIF, the Post Forum Dialogue and the multiplicity of other regional fora. "We need better
choreography so that Chris Hill has time to talk to leaders."

When the review team visits Micronesia, U.S. assistance suggesting contacts would be helpful, Williams added.

20. (C) Williams offered to provide a revised Pacific strategy paper (an "environmental scan" as he called it) submitted to Cabinet earlier this year, which summarizes GNZ's activities in the PICs. DCM Burnett said that the Embassy would see if Washington could provide a similar
document from our sub-PCC process. Williams said his Pacific Division should share relevant reporting with the Embassy, and recommended scheduling a regular meeting every five to six weeks with Emboffs and the Pacific Division to discuss recent events and explore possible areas of cooperation.

Williams also welcomed the opportunity for a high-level policy discussion, noting that he intended travel to Washington later in the year, and that he would be happy to swing through Hawaii.

21. (C) Pol-Econ Couns recalled A/S Hill's interest in New Zealand's use of trust funds for delivering official development assistance (ODA). Williams said that New Zealand is increasing its use of trust funds in Tuvalu, Niue, Tokelau, and would share more information on their use.

22. (C) Williams also asked to what extent the U.S. Coast Guard remains engaged in fisheries management in the Pacific, noting that New Zealand and France are discussing possible exchange of data within the FRANZ cooperative arrangement. Williams asked how the U.S. and New Zealand exchange fisheries-related satellite data. He noted that as New
Zealand rolls out its new multipurpose vessels, it could be useful to discuss New Zealand's role in patrols of Pacific fishing areas.

23. (C) Comment: Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Hartcher, in an article picked up by the June 12 Dominion Post, warned that if Australia and New Zealand do not want to see places like East Timor "lapse routinely into chaos" and "become a permanent dependency," they need to revise their engagement with the Pacific and avoid a "moral hazard" where Pacific governments find their incentives toward good
governance and economic development reduced by offshore arbiters of law and order and providers of financial assistance. As we move forward cooperating with Australia and New Zealand on Pacific Island issues, we will need to explicitly address this issue.


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