Global Insight: New Zealand's relationship with Samoa

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New Zealand must remember its sometimes-negative history in the Pacific as it builds a deeper relationship with Pacific Island states, Professor Robert Patman says.

This week, there has been angry public reaction to a cartoon, published in the Otago Daily Times, belittling the suffering of Samoan people during the present measles epidemic, which has killed more than 60 people in the island nation.

The newspaper has apologised for its lapse of judgement and the hurt caused.

The incident has been linked in many Samoans’ minds with New Zealand’s role in spreading the Spanish flu to Samoa a century ago, killing almost a quarter of the population.

‘‘I think we should never underestimate the power of historical memory,’’ Prof Patman, an international relations specialist, says.

The University of Otago professor says the Pacific region has become very important to New Zealand and that this country is generally viewed favourably by Pacific Island states, particularly compared with Australia.

He warns that care is needed in developing the relationship further.

‘‘I don’t think there’s any room for complacency, as we’ve seen with this recent episode, the Garrick Tremain cartoon, which has led to protests and some strong feelings being articulated.

‘‘I’m not suggesting New Zealand has got it totally right. I’m just saying I think that it has all the potential to deepen the relationship with the Pacific and make it a positive one.’’


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