Report – By John Andrews for Scoop
New Zealand may be invited to join Pacific Island countries in a ginger group promoting Polynesia’s interests.
For years the idea of a Polynesian-oriented grouping has been debated by Polynesian leaders at the annual Pacific Islands Forum summit. Now a few of them have decided to do something about it.
At the behest of Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, one of the prime movers pushing for the formation of the group, five leaders met privately in the City Life Hotel on the eve of the forum summit in Auckland earlier this month.
The participants – representing the Cook Islands, Niue, Tuvalu, Tonga and Samoa – decided to instruct their respective senior officials to recommend wording for a charter and work out likely costs.
The Polynesian leaders agreed to meet again early in November in Samoa’s capital Apia to discuss their new group’s aims and organisational requirements.
There are indications they will select Tuilaepa as their first chairman, with a small secretariat set up initially in Apia.
Other non-forum member countries which may find themselves invited to send representatives to the meeting are American Samoa, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna and Easter Island (Rapanui).
Even Hawai’i and New Zealand could get invitations because of their Polynesian affiliations.
Both Tuilaepa and Toke Talagi, Premier of Niue, were adamant the proposed Polynesian Group would not present a political counter weight to influence purported to have been exerted in the region by the Melanesian Spearhead Group and their Micronesian Group neighbours.
Tuilaepa said the Micronesian member countries regarded their organisation as being very necessary for cohesion, just as the Melanesians did. Polynesian countries had learned a very useful lesson, albeit belatedly, as a result.
He did not expect any adverse reaction to the group’s formation, saying: “They suggested it themselves when I raised the issue in Fiji and in Tonga.”
Asked if New Zealand would be invited to become a member of the Polynesian Group, he said: “We haven’t made that decision yet. There are some complications.
“The proper thing is to go by the general guideline of the so called Polynesian Triangle which stretches from Hawai’i to New Zealand to the east as far as Easter Island.”
To explain his views on sub-regionalism in the Pacific, Tuilaepa pointed to the speech he gave in July this year to mark the forum’s 40th anniversary.
He contended then that rather than being portrayed as a challenge to the region by building alternative coalitions, sub-regionalism should be viewed as “countries with a common history, related cultural traditions and a commitment to dialogue working together on issues of mutual interest”.
As well as preserving language, culture and traditions, sub-regionalism might provide better platforms for effective and efficient delivery programmes that benefitted the entire region.
The exposure of Polynesian people and countries to modern development and communications had heightened risks to the long term survival of their cultures and languages. To remain complacent would be a mistake.
Tuilaepa and Talagi said the Polynesian Group would remain on the periphery of the forum but indicated that, for financial reasons, it made sense for leaders to meet around the time of the annual forum summits.
Denying the new group was being formed to counter MSG influence, Niue Premier Talagi said: “It’s away from and nothing to do with the forum but at the same time we are talking about a similar sort of grouping for the Polynesian countries that are interested in establishing themselves as such.
“I think we have got to determine who the membership is but we consider New Zealand and Hawai’i, for example, as being part of the Polynesian Triangle so they could very well be part of the members of this Polynesian Group. But it is not a breakaway from the forum.
“There are indications New Zealand may be interested to be part of it, as part of the Polynesian Triangle.
“There has always been an informal Polynesian group but it has never been formalised.”
Asked if the MSG people had been informed of the Polynesian Group plan, Talagi said: “Why would we? They never told us anything about their group, nor the Micronesians for that matter.”
John Andrews is an independent journalist and Scoop contributor.