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Jason Walls: PM’s brief Pacific tour a quiet success amid geopolitical tension

Publish Date
Fri, 7 Jun 2024, 11:47am

Jason Walls: PM’s brief Pacific tour a quiet success amid geopolitical tension

Publish Date
Fri, 7 Jun 2024, 11:47am

If you didn’t hear much about the Prime Minister’s trip to the Pacific this week, you’re likely not in the minority.

Chris Luxon spent the week in Niue and Fiji, reaffirming relationships and posing important geo-strategic questions.

Neither of these things mean anything, outside a game of buzz word bingo.

Luxon made a few small announcements about already-allocated Pacific aid funding for Niue, and new visa rules for Fijians transiting through New Zealand.

But the Pacific trip was never about good getting good press in New Zealand.

Back home, Government strategists would be purring with delight watching what could well be the first step in the demise of embattled Te Pati Māori.

Let them have the headlines.

This week, Luxon had his eyes far further afield than New Zealand. In fact, his gaze was further than the Pacific Islands he was visiting - they were fixed on Beijing.

The shadow of the Chinese casts itself long in the Pacific. Its influence can be seen far and wide.

Nowhere more so than the tiny island of Niue. This small Pacific New Zealand realm lies thick with native bush and forest and its population is sparse. Small houses dot the sides of the newly resealed roads - roads resealed in part, by the Chinese Government.

There are newly erected apartment blocks, courtesy of Beijing and a fleet of new, flash-looking Government Haval SUVs - again paid for by the Chinese Government.

For a territory of New Zealand, there are a lot of Made in China stickers slapped around Niue.

This is by no means isolated; quite the opposite. It is a tried and tested geopolitical strategy to buy influence in a region.

The Chinese Government has been doing it in Africa for decades. More recently, it has turned its eyes to the Pacific - and it is shaking the seemingly limitless money tree to get results.

When it comes to throwing money around, no one can compete with the Chinese - least of all little old New Zealand.

But that did not stop Luxon from trying. His $20 million renewable energy package for the Niueans works out to be close to $12,500 per person.

In New Zealand terms, that would be the equivalent of a $63 billion cheque. That is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice.

But New Zealand’s gambit is not on outspending China - to them, $20 million is chump change.

New Zealand’s best hope of retaining its influence in the region is by leaning on our close ties with Pacific nations and territories.

New Zealand is home to 30,000 Niueans - 20 times the population of Niue itself. There are twice as many Fijians and close to 200,000 Samoans.

That significantly eclipses the number of Pacific Islanders living in China.

For now, this continues to give New Zealand the edge when it comes to influence in the Pacific. Money can only get you so far, and blood is thicker than water.

And that has been top of mind for Luxon during his brief tour of the islands this week. And it’s why he’s also pencilled in a number of trips to the region this year.

He’ll be counting on those close ties as China’s shadow looms larger in the region. But that’s a tactic that can't last forever.

One Niuean woman commented during a village lunch for Luxon that she didn’t care who the money was coming from: if it’s helping her people it doesn’t matter.

Blood may be thicker than water - but money talks, and the Chinese are talking very loudly.

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