Breaking with Britain

Decolonization of the Pacific

Australasia 1985.071

Breaking with Britain

Decolonization of the Pacific (10 July 1985)

Historical Map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific

As late as 1941, British dominance in Australasia and the South Pacific was unchallenged. By the 1970s this era was over, with Britain joining the European Community and abandoning almost all its remaining colonies. Australia and New Zealand responded by reinventing themselves, revamping their economies, and, in the case of N.Z., adopting a fierce anti-nuclear policy which irritated both the United States and France.

Main Events

Independence of the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is made independent of the United Kingdom, with 35 year old Chief Minister Peter Kenilorea becoming Prime Minister.

Independence of Tuvalu

Tuvalu - formerly called the Ellice Islands - gains independence from the United Kingdom, with Toaripi Lauti as its first Prime Minister and Funafuti atoll as its capital.

Kiribati Independence

The Gilbert Islands becomes independent from the United Kingdom as the Independent and Sovereign Republic of Kiribati ("Kiribati" is the Gilbertese rendition of "Gilberts"), under 29 year old President Ieremia Tabai. Following this, the United States gives up its claims to 14 islands of the Line and Phoenix chains in the 1979 Treaty of Tarawa.

Coconut War

Jimmy Stevens, leader of the separatist Nagriamel movement on Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, leads an uprising against the colonial officials and the plans for independence of the New Hebrides as Vanuatu. With the support of French-speaking land owners and the American-run Phoenix Foundation, Stevens blockades the airport and declares the independence of Espiritu Santo as the "State of Vemerana". On the request of Vanuatu's Prime Minister-elect, Walter Lini, Papua New Guinea intervenes, ending the rebellion with only a few casualties.

Independence of Vanuatu

The Anglo-French Condominium of New Hebrides (Nouvelles-Hébrides) is granted independence by France and the United Kingdom, becoming the Republic of Vanuatu. The independence process is complicated by foreign owners, who were dispossessed and received compensation in 1979, and the Coconut War over secessionist movements in Tanna and Espiritu Santo.

New Zealand nuclear-free zone

Under Prime Minister David Lange, New Zealand's Fourth Labour Government passes nuclear-free zone legislation, barring nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering NZ waters. As the US Navy refuses to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons on its vessels, this action effectively bans US warships from visiting NZ. In response, the US suspends its ANZUS obligations to New Zealand.

Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

In Operation Satanique, French agents detonate bombs in the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, at 11:38pm and 11:45pm in the port of Auckland, New Zealand, sinking it and killing one crew member. The operation prevents the boat from leading protests against French nuclear testing in Muroroa. France initially denies involvement, condemning what it calls a terrorist attack, but in the following months two of its agents are captured by NZ police, leading to an international scandal and the resignation of the French Defence Minister.

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