Niue is a small island of 261 km. But in Chinese thinking, it’s as big as Vietnam

Niue is one of the South Pacific islands included in Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s mission to deepen relations as part of his Pacific Islands tour. Wang spoke with Niue Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dalton Tagelagi via video on Sunday, May 29, with the two sides pledging to deepen bilateral cooperation, including on the Belt and Road Initiative. .

The country, located 2,400 km northeast of New Zealand, is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, and New Zealand conducts most diplomatic relations on its behalf. As part of the Kingdom of New Zealand, Niueans are also New Zealand citizens. Niue, also known as “The Rock”, is actually a huge coral atoll and is home to a population of around 1,600. Its main source of income has been remittances sent back to the island by Niueans living in New Zealand – home to around 90% of the Niuean population.

Besides remittances, other sources of income have been foreign aid, mainly from Wellington, although this is being phased out. The island was for some time an offshore financial paradise (Dezan Shira & Associates helped in the 1990s with the translation of his offshore financial company’s documentation into Chinese), but this industry collapsed following the Panama Papers scandal. More recently, the island has developed an agricultural industry, rental of international telephone lines and Internet domains, and some tourism. Niue’s ambitions were seen in the context of its small 261 km island.

China views Niue quite differently, however, and in a way that highlights the difference between Western and Chinese development thinking and strategies. Niue is entitled to an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) of Pacific Ocean waters surrounding the island. These extend over 317,500 km and are the size of Vietnam. Niue also announced that it is extending its EEZ “protective coverage” to 100% of the entire area. Its policy in this sense means that Niue is solely responsible for the management of the EEZ, and in what it can allow.

In April, the new policy of the government of Niue led to the creation of the Nukutuluea multipurpose marine park. It is divided into areas including the pristine Beveridge Reef, an uninhabited atoll 120 miles from the island where fishing is prohibited and only scientific studies are authorized; a three-mile zone for traditional canoe fishing, sport fishing and scuba diving; a general ocean area for foreign commercial fishing; and a conservation area where ships can pass but not stop.

Niue monitors the marine park via satellite monitoring and, as it has no navy, relies on neighboring Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands and New Zealand to conduct annual monitoring operations to search signs of illegal fishing, which carries heavy penalties.

However, policies may change, with the important step already taken that Niue has exercised its rights to the waters of the Pacific Ocean that wash its shores. China will carefully consider Niue and what the island has to offer. Influencing whether Niue continues with its 100% protection policy (which also includes part of the commercial fishery) or will seek to persuade it to reduce this and expand permitted fishing rights will be the main point of interest. And that’s exactly what happens when Chinese minds see 317,500 kilometers of opportunity, while Western eyes only notice 261.

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