Pacific Media Watch

22 June 2015

COOK ISLANDS: UN membership bid puts NZ relations 'at risk'

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Cook Islands PM Henry Puna says UN move has nothing to do with aid. Image: Cook Islands News

Rashneel Kumar
RAROTONGA (Cook Islands News/ Radio New Zealand International/ Pacific Media Watch): Prime Minister Henry Puna says New Zealand has "some issues" regarding the quest to become a United Nations member, which "might have prejudicial effect" on citizenship arrangements.

Puna is confident they can overcome the dilemma through regular dialogue with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Responding to the Opposition’s query on why the government continued its pursuit for membership despite being turned down by New Zealand, Puna criticised the media commentators for jumping the gun.

He said some journalists and media commentators had misconstrued the Cook Islands’ goal as a way of getting more aid.

Puna labelled that as a "ridiculous" claim and said the pursuit for membership had nothing to do with foreign aid.

The country was already a member of some UN bodies and it was time it became a member of the parent body, he said.

He added it made sense as a maturing and growing country to aspire to be part of the UN.

Ready to develop
“Our country now is strong enough financially to stand on its own feet. We are proud of that fact and we all should be proud of that fact," he said.

“I’m proud of the fact that our country will be graduating from the least developing countries. We are indeed maturing and growing as a country.”

Puna asked members of Parliament to develop a new mindset and think globally like his government.

“For too long we have [been] laden under this complexion that we are too small and somehow we are not entitled to sit at the table with the big boys in the world," he said.

“We are not small, we are a huge country if we include our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). We are a growing country and we deserve to sit at the main table of the world.”

NZ rules out discussion
But although Puna plans to continue talks of the membership with New Zealand, John Key said he was not planning on having another discussion on UN membership with Puna.

In a statement from a spokeperson for Key, the prime minister was clear that New Zealand was not in a position to support Cook Islands membership of the UN under the Cooks Islands' current constitutional status.

The statement said if the Cook Islands wanted UN membership, the constitutional relationship, including the current shared citizenship would need to change.

It also said New Zealand was open to reviewing its relationship with the Cook Islands, if the Cook Islands wanted to do so, though New Zealand was not seeking a change. 

However, a Cook Islands opposition MP said the government was putting the country's relationship with New Zealand at risk by pursuing the membership.

The Cook Islands Foreign Affairs Ministry argues that there is nothing about having your own and separate citizenship in the criteria for joining the UN.

But Murienua MP, James Beer, said it was very clear that the United Nations' charter dealt with sovereign countries, and the Cook Islands was not a sovereign country.

"The fear that most Cook Islanders have is that the relationship between the Cook Islands and New Zealand, and having New Zealand citizenship and passports, are extremely relevant to the lifestyles and the peace of mind for all Cook Islanders," he said.

"Our feeling is that this action, this unilateral action that's being taken by the Prime Minister, is putting that relationship at risk."


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