New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta Photo: Pool image / Robert Kitchin /Stuff

WELLINGTON, 08 NOVEMBER 2021 (RNZ PACIFIC) — The New Zealand Foreign Minister says the country’s new Pacific policy is about a partnered approach.

Nanaia Mahuta’s focus on resilience is the follow up to the Pacific Reset set up three years ago.

She said the new policy is building on the stronger involvement in the region established by the government three years ago.

Mahuta said while climate change is the critical concern, the impact of Covid-19 on health systems and economies means working more closely with the island countries is increasingly vital.

“There are a great many more opportunities for those who choose to invest in the Pacific, align with the Pacific values, the Pacific Way, to ensure their economic, social, cultural survival, but also the way they see themselves developing,” the minister said.

On the Pacific Islands Forum bust-up, Mahuta said her government is working hard to ensure the Pacific Islands Forum remains united.

The five Micronesian members are in the throes of leaving the body, angry their nominee for secretary-general failed to get the job, after they believed it had been promised to their bloc.

The minister said it’s important the Micronesians stay in the Forum.

“Because there are significant and substantial issues facing the region where a united voice is the best approach to advocate on behalf of the whole of the Pacific, she said.

“And that still remains, including New Zealand. We are working very hard to try and find a way through so that the Micronesian states can have confidence the PIF is for everybody.”

While New Zealand’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases is largely dependent on buying carbon credits overseas, the foreign minister said this approach won’t undermine the new Pacific policy.

Climate change is the key concern for the Pacific and the island countries have been demanding for years that western nations make substantial cuts in their production of greenhouse gases.

But Mahuta said there are a number of ways of addressing this issue.

“What I can say as far as the resilience focus, for example, our commitment to lift investment through climate finance will have significant benefits towards the Pacific, and that changes the nature of the conversation with the Pacific, around the types of initiatives in country and perhaps across the Pacific that will support their aspirations,” she said.

Mahuta said the government remains committed to pushing for action on West Papua at the Pacific Islands Forum.

In 2019, the Forum urged Indonesia to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s Office to visit Papua and provide an independent assessment.

While there’s been little progress on this front, Mahuta said she was recently assured by the Forum Secretary-General, Henry Puna, that the matter is very much still on the agenda.

“So New Zealand in a multi-lateral sense, alongside PIF nations, expressed its concerns, and has done so in my understanding very consistently, and this is why a united voice across the Pacific does matter,” Mahuta said.

She doesn’t deny that more needs to be done on West Papua.

A major civil society group working in the Pacific is happy with the change in policy. Oxfam calls New Zealand’s new Pacific Resilience Policy a step change.

Its communication director, Jo Spratt, said she admires the emphasis on fishing and trade away from the traditional focus on providing aid.

She said it’s very significant the policy recognises Pacific nations will drive their own outcomes.

“Caring for their citizens and looking after their environment the way they want to but making sure New Zealand can walk alongside as a partner to help, as a collective family, to provide that collective sense of togetherness, to bounce back when things go wrong. That kind of idea of resilience that you can weather the storm if you like. And Minster Mahuta implies that we are doing that together,” she said…. PACNEWS

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