‘Thorny question’ raised during Helen Clark visit

Saturday July 21, 2018 Written by Published in Politics
Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Cook Islands prime minister the late Sir Terepai Maoate, sign documents during Clark’s visit back in 2001. 18072009 Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Cook Islands prime minister the late Sir Terepai Maoate, sign documents during Clark’s visit back in 2001. 18072009

The Cook Islands’ interest in joining the United Nations goes back a long way.

It became the focus of high level discussion in 2001when visiting New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark met with prime minister Dr (later Sir) Terepai Maoate.

According to a New Zealand Herald report at the time, the “thorny” question of the Cooks' independence from New Zealand had been at the back of the minds of New Zealand officials who were aware of Cook Island politicians pondering full Cooks' membership of the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

A NZ reporter wrote that Helen Clark had gone to the Cook Islands as a friend of New Zealand's closest constitutional neighbour, but behind the warm greetings, she left no one in any doubt that the price of cutting the political apron strings that bind the two countries could prove costly to this country.

Clark was asked if, during her private talks with Maoate, she had expressed reservations about any move by the Cooks to become a fully-fledged member of the two international bodies.

She said she had pointed out New Zealand citizenship implications for Cook Islanders if the Cooks sought sovereignty, enabling them to be a member in their own right.

If the Cooks wanted to become a sovereign nation, it needed its own citizenship. Cook Islanders would remain New Zealand citizens but "if they want to change it, they can."

Clark said: "If they want to exert full independence, New Zealand will not stand in their way."

While New Zealand was happy for the status quo to remain, it was up to the Cooks to decide how they wanted to evolve.

Norman George, the Cook Islands deputy prime minister at the time, said that, in his view, his country would not seek independence. It was an academic issue never to be raised.

According to the NZ Herald, there were indications that the Cooks' leaders were taken by surprise by New Zealand's stance when Dr Maoate apparently asked Clark about her Government's attitude to the Cook Islands' efforts to upgrade its international profile.

After Clark departed, New Zealand officials in Rarotonga are understood to have New Zealand's position abundantly clear - declare independence and lose citizenship rights.

Dr James Gosselin, international legal adviser to the Cooks Government, told the newspaper that successive governments had explored UN membership at an appropriate time.

"We intend carrying out an intensive feasibility study of UN membership this year."

"Forum countries in the UN formulate a block," Dr Gosselin said. " We feel it is time to look at becoming more directly involved in the process."

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