Independence for the Pacific Islands

Decolonization of the Pacific

Australasia 1971.0702

Independence for the Pacific Islands

Decolonization of the Pacific (2 July 1971)

Historical Map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific

The 1960s saw the beginning of the withdrawal of the colonial powers from the Pacific Islands. In 1962, New Zealand granted independence to Western Samoa, with Australia and Britain pulling out of their Pacific colonies from the late 1960s on. By 1980, only the French still retained a significant overseas empire in the region.

Main Events

Konfrontasi

After Malaya, and the British colonies of Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak agreed to unite to create Malaysia, Indonesia - whose leader, Sukarno, considered Malaysia a British puppet state - waged undeclared low level warfare in Borneo and, later, Malaya. British and Commonwealth forces supported Malaysia and helped fend off the Indonesian attacks. After protracted warfare, Indonesia agreed to formally recognize Malaysia in August 1966.

Cession of West New Guinea

Following their seven-month transitional administration, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority transferred authority over West New Guinea to the Republic of Indonesia. To fulfill the 1962 New York Agreement, the Act of Free Choice referendum was held in 1969, but with only 1,026 elders selected by the Indonesian military allowed to vote. After the elders controversially rejected independence, the territory was formally incorporated into Indonesia as Irian Barat province.

Formation of Malaysia

Malaya and the British colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore joined to form the independent Federation of Malaysia. The date of 31 August 1963 had initially been chosen for the formation of Malaysia to coincide with the independence day of Malaya and the British giving self-rule to Sarawak and North Borneo, but was postponed after opposition from Indonesia.

Aboriginal Rights amendments

The Australian referendum of 27 May 1967 approved two amendments to the Australian constitution giving Indigenous Australians equal rights. 90.77% of votes cast approved the amendments and they were carried in all six states. As a result of the vote, the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967 became law on 10 August 1967.

Independence of Nauru

Following a two-year constitutional convention, Nauru became the world's smallest independent republic under founding president Hammer DeRoburt. After purchasing the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners in 1967, control of Nauru's important phosphate reserves passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation in 1970.

Tongan Independence

Under arrangements established prior to her death in 1965 by the third monarch, Queen Sālote Tupou III, the Kingdom of Tonga withdrew from the Treaty of Friendship that bound it to the United Kingdom. This ended the British protectorate over Tonga and confirmed Tonga's status as an independent nation.

Fijian Independence

The Colony of Fiji became independent of the United Kingdom as the Dominion of Fiji. As the population of the Fijian islands was split almost evenly between ethnic Fijians and Fijians of Indian descent (Indo-Fijians), the government was a compromise with 22 seats allocated to each ethnicity and an additional 8 seats set aside for Europeans and other minorities.

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