Add Tonga To The Growing List Of NZ’s Pacific Interventions

Peace Researcher 33 ran a detailed account of New Zealand’s rapidly developing role as the deputy to George Bush’s Australian deputy sheriff in the Asia/Pacific region (November 2006, “The Deputy Sheriff’s Deputy: New Zealand’s Military Foreign Policy in Asia & Pacific”, by Murray Horton, which can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr33-138.html ).This described the intervention by the Australian and NZ military and police in both Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands in 2006, in both cases responding to a “crisis” and in both cases taking a partisan stance in each countries’ internal politics.

In the case of Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) the Australasian military intervention played a crucial role in removing Mari Alkatiri from the office of Prime Minister, because he was deemed inimical to the interests of the Western powers. He was replaced by Jose Maria Horta, a veteran Timorese political figure who is now very much part of “our team” in Timor Leste (thus continuing a three decades long inglorious history of New Zealand behaving shabbily towards the East Timorese people. Elsewhere in this issue you can read Jeremy Agar’s review of Maire Leadbeater’s “Negligent Neighbour”, the definitive book on the subject).

This intervention has continued, unbroken, into 2007 and provided crucial backing for Horta’s election as the fledgling nation’s second President this year. Upon winning, he promptly declared that he wanted the Australian and New Zealand troops to stay on indefinitely. The Howard and Clark governments are happy to oblige. And the Australasian deployment in the deeply troubled Solomon Islands has been extended through until 2008, despite the increasingly antagonistic relationship between its Government and that of Australia, which seeks to administer the Solomons as a colony in all but name.

Most recently Australia has extended its military sphere of influence further north into Asia, signing a May 2007 Status of Forces Agreement with the Philippines. This will allow Australian troops to be stationed in that country from 2008 and will see Australian military assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines which have been fighting two major civil wars since the 1970s - against Muslim separatist guerrillas in the South and against Communist guerrillas throughout most of the archipelago. This is only the second such Agreement that the Philippines has signed, the first one being with the US, its former colonial master (the Philippine government is proud to be called America’s “most reliable ally” in South East Asia and George Bush has declared the country the “Second Front in the ‘War On Terror’”).

New Zealand has not been standing idly by. In November 2006 it added Tonga to the list of Pacific neighbours in which it has militarily intervened. This arose from the crisis following the massive rioting and burning which destroyed a significant proportion of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, killing several people in the process. Tonga is the one of the world’s last feudal monarchies, certainly the last in the Pacific, and the excesses of the Royal Family have been chronicled by the outside world in recent years with a mixture of incredulity and outright horror. King George Tupou V succeeded his late father in 2006, bringing to the throne the man known as the Clown Prince, the worst possible person to be in charge of Tonga as it has been shaken by a years-long peaceful mass protest movement calling for democracy. The November 2006 riot erupted after the King’s handpicked Parliament adjourned for the year without addressing the democracy movement’s concerns.

But the violence was something completely new and totally out of character with the history of the pro-democracy movement. Only one mainstream NZ journalist, Michael Field, explained just who these rioters were (Press, 27/1/07; “Urban gangs wreak havoc in islands”). They were not from the pro-democracy movement, but hardened members of criminal youth gangs from both the US and NZ who had been either deported to their country of origin or sent back there by their families in a misguided attempt to get them away from bad influences. Many of them were not even Tongan-born but of Tongan descent, born in the US or NZ. Once back “home” they resumed their intimidatory habit of forming into gangs and terrorising their host community. These were the lumpen proletariat elements who rioted, looted and burnt Nuku’alofa, doing it not for any political motive but for the sheer malicious thrill of it all.

The new King and the nobles who dominate the Government wasted no time in taking advantage of this golden opportunity to smear and attack the pro-democracy movement, falsely blaming it for the riot and arresting its leading figures on sedition charges (hundreds of rank and file rioters also face a raft of criminal charges). The feudal regime’s hand was greatly strengthened by Australia and NZ rushing to its assistance, sending both troops and police to “restore order” and to track down and bring to trial those involved in the riot. NZ judges were also involved in helping to manage the resulting huge upsurge in caseload for the courts. This goes far beyond “restoring order” and is a major commitment by New Zealand to prop up Tonga’s repressive feudal regime, despite having regularly condemned it in recent years. This did not go unnoticed by the feisty pro-democracy movement, which condemned the partisan involvement of Australian and New Zealand troops and police. Clive Edwards, a Tongan politician, said: “Tonga’s government, legitimate and legal though it may be, has failed the country and its people badly and now must turn to foreign governments for support in running the country in ways that have never been necessary before and should not be necessary now” (Press, 22/11/06, “Stop backing regime, troops told”, Dan Eaton).

A pattern has emerged. Initially these regional Australasian military interventions are justified by some life or death crisis (such as Indonesian troops and militias running amok in their East Timor colony in 1999; or Solomon Islander mobs burning down Chinatown in the capital, Honiara, in 2006). But the troops and police stay on long after the crisis has been solved and become major partisan participants in local politics, invariably to ensure that Western interests (such as control of hotly disputed offshore oil and gas deposits in the case of Timor Leste) are given primacy. This has got nothing to do with “aid”, let alone “development”. It is a shabby tale of mini-imperialism by Bush’s two regional Mini Mes, namely Howard and Clark. It replicates the pattern established by Howard in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by Clark in the latter (NZ’s “feelgood” military participation in the illegal occupation of Iraq turned out to be shortlived and ended ignominiously before things got really bad for “our boys”). In Timor Leste, the Solomons and Tonga, Clark needs to do what she had to do it Iraq – get NZ’s troops out. They have no business being there and their continued presence makes New Zealanders complicit in a very shabby regional state of affairs.


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