We can’t but wonder whether China’s thrust into the Pacific – exposing our government to mounting criticism on the foreign affairs front – helps explain two of the latest announcements from the Beehive.
The shortcomings of the government in general and Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta in particular are spolighted today in an article by Geoffrey Miller for the Democracy Project.
It is headed Political Roundup: Nanaia Mahuta under pressure as Pacific’s geopolitical Great Game heats up.
Miller, the Democracy Project’s international analyst and writer on New Zealand foreign policy and related geopolitical issues, observes:
As a new ‘Great Game’ for control of the Pacific escalates, New Zealand’s foreign minister is coming under pressure from all sides.
For those keeping score, China has now signed co-operation agreements with Samoa and Kiribati, while the US has convinced Fiji to join its new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).
Most details of China’s new agreements have yet to be released, but they reportedly focus on economics and development – rather than hard security. But like the rather vague and weak IPEF on the Western side, the mere existence of the agreements is currently what counts.
As geopolitical competition and polarisation continue to deepen, timing and symbolism have been everything over the past week.
As the US and China jockey for influence in our Pacific backyard, Australia has despatched its new foreign minister, Penny Wong, to Fiji, whereas our foreign minister has been subject to “volleys of criticism” over her perceived inaction from former foreign ministers (who can be accused of promoting their own political agendas) and former diplomats (whose credibility is not so easy to undermine).
Miller notes that Mahuta has made only three trips outside New Zealand since she was appointed foreign minister in November 2020.whereas trade minister Damien O’Connor is already on at least his fifth international trip.
But whatever Mahuta’s shortcomings might be, her colleagues have been doing their bit to buttress New Zealand’s relationships with Pacific people.
Something called the Pacific Employment Action Plan was launched today by the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, at the first of three Pacific Post-Budget 2022 breakfasts being held over the next two weeks.
The announcement gave Sio and colleague Carmel Sepuloni a platform to highlight the Ministry for Pacific Peoples securing additional funding through Budget 2022 to support the continuation and enhancement of targeted employment and training initiatives for Pacific communities including:
- $18.28m to continue the Toloa STEAM programme
- $8m to continue delivering employment and training services through Tupu Aotearoa
- $1.6m to maintain the Pacific Work Connect Service for Pacific migrants.
The Pacific Employment Action Plan aims to diversify the Pacific workforce, address barriers to employment and “leverage” Pacific entrepreneurship (whatever that means).
“We are undertaking a range of reforms and reviews to ensure that we deliver greater impact for Pacific people across all areas that support people being in good work,” Sio said. “Ensuring all Pacific communities can participate in a productive and dynamic labour market is at the heart of our Employment Strategy,” Sio said.
In an earlier press statement, he said Samoan language week would be even more important this year as Samoa celebrates 60 years of independence.
“This is the year of Samoa in the Pacific and we begin this week in Aotearoa with the celebration of ‘Le Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa’, Samoan Language week.
“Samoans are one of the fastest-growing populations in Aotearoa New Zealand, with the Samoan population representing 47.9 per cent of Pacific people in Aotearoa, making it the largest Pacific population.”
Considering China’s interests in Samoa, what came next is significant:
“We mustn’t forget Gagana Samoa and Samoa are so important to us. It is the only nation New Zealand has joined in a Treaty of Friendship and we’ll also be marking the 60th anniversary since that Treaty was signed 1st August 1962, following independence. That Treaty is about our mutual desire to gain social progress for Tagata Samoans and our language is critical in achieving this,”
As Minister of Pacific Peoples, we can only wonder what Sio has been telling his colleagues about our relationship with Samoa and whether he foresaw it signing a bilateral agreement with China on Saturday, promising “greater collaboration”, as Beijing’s foreign minister continued a tour of the Pacific that has sparked concern among western allies.
According to The Guardian, the deal’s details are unclear, and come midway through a Chinese delegation’s eight-nation trip – but an earlier leaked draft agreement sent to several Pacific countries outlined plans to expand security and economic engagement.
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Diversifying the Pacific workforce, addressing barriers to employment and leveraging Pacific entrepreneurship are the key objectives of the Government’s new Pacific Employment Action Plan.
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Samoan language week will be even more important this year as Samoa celebrates 60 years of independence, Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said.
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