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Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand that consists of three tropical coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean. The United Nations General Assembly designated Tokelau a Non-Self-Governing Territory.
Tokelau comprises three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean between 171° and 173° W longitude and 8° and 10° S latitude, approximately midway between Hawaii and New Zealand. They lie about 500 km (311 mi) north of Samoa. The islands are Atafu, at one time known as the Duke of York Group, Nukunonu, also the Duke of Clarence Group, and Fakaofo, once Bowditch Island. Between them they comprise a land area of 10.8 km². There are no ports or harbours. Tokelau lies in the Pacific typhoon belt. A fourth island that is culturally, historically, and geographically, but not politically, part of the Tokelau chain is Swains Island (Olohega), under United States control since about 1900 and administered as part of American Samoa since 1925. The island was claimed by the United States pursuant to the Guano Islands Act as were the other three islands of Tokelau, which claims were ceded to Tokelau by treaty in 1979. In the draft constitution of Tokelau subject to the Tokelauan self-determination referendum in 2006, Olohega is claimed as part of Tokelau, a claim surrendered in the same 1979 treaty which established a boundary between American Samoa and Tokelau.
Tokelau's claim to Swains is generally comparable to the Marshall Islands' claim to US-administered Wake Island, but the re-emergence of this somewhat dormant issue has been an unintended result of the United Nations' recent efforts to promote decolonization in Tokelau. Basically, Tokelauans have proved somewhat reluctant to push their national identity in the political realm: recent decolonization moves have mainly been driven from outside for ideological reasons. But at the same time, Tokelauans are reluctant to disown their common cultural identity with Swains Islanders who speak their language.
Against the claim in Tokelau's draft constitution that Swains Island is part of Tokelau is the arguably telling symbolism of the three stars on the flag of Tokelau, representing Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo, i.e., not including Swains Island (Olohega). The suggestion which could be inferred from this is that, in identifying with a three-star flag, supporters of Tokelau's independence do not actively expect Swains Island to be incorporated into any independent Tokelauan state that might emerge in the foreseeable future. In turn, against this it may be argued that, since the flag of Tokelau is neither currently official, nor the emblem of an internationally recognized sovereign state, then the number of stars, and the islands which they represent, cannot be regarded as conclusive indication as to the territorial aspirations of Tokelau's nationalists. By way of example in support of this is the fact that in the 1990s neighbouring Tuvalu, with which Tokelau has cultural affinities, varied the number of stars — representing islands — on different official versions of its national flag.
Tokelau is in a completely different time zone to most of New Zealand, being 10 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) rather than 12 hours in front, meaning a 22 hour time difference for much of the year (New Zealand has daylight saving time (DST) for part of the year while Tokelau never participates). Tokelau is in the same time zone as the Cook Islands and Hawaii rather than neighbouring Samoa and American Samoa.
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