Aotearoa New Zealand’s Pacific Engagement: Partnering for Resilience

Foreign Affairs

Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Foreign Minister

Speech to the NZIIA

3pm, Wednesday 3 November 2021

Aotearoa New Zealand’s Pacific Engagement: Partnering for Resilience



Tangaroa wai nui, Tangaroa wai roa

Nāu ko te hōhonu, Nāu ko te ngarungaru, Nau ko te marino

Nāu ko te huanui a ō tātau tīpuna i Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa

Tangaroa te wai ora, Tangaroa te wai tapu e

Whano, Whano, tū mai te hoe

Haumi ē, hui ē

Tāiki ē

E ai ki te kōrero, Whakapumautia ngā iwi i tō rātou ake mana, he mana tuku iho, he mana motuhake, he mana whakahaere

He mana nō te Moana Nui a Kiwa.

Tena koutou katoa


Thank you to Sir Anand Satyanand for hosting this event today and to Hon Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban for moderating the forum.

This is an opportunity to share the next steps that I intend to take to reinforce the centrality of the Pacific and our outlook over the next few years. Aotearoa New Zealand draws its whakapapa connection from Polynesia our whanaungatanga reinforces our special relationship to Te-Moana-nui-a-Kiwa; The Blue Ocean continent. Our voyaging legacy of our Polynesian forebears is a story of endurance and resilience. Our recent history also connects us to the United Kingdom, the early establishment of Government in New Zealand and the Treaty of Waitangi/ Te Tiriti o Waitangi as our founding document.

The New Net Goes Fishing

First let me take a moment to share a whakatauāki that is a metaphor well understood across the Pacific. Ka pū te rūhā, ka hāo te rangatahi, As the old net is cast aside a new net goes fishing. When we consider the importance of the moana and the resources of the marine environment, fishing is a vital activity to ensure the survival of people and communities. The net is an enduring symbolism of the resilience of people to sustain themselves. The imagery of the old and new net convey intergenerational knowledge passing on. Consider elders, kaumatua and kuia, reinforcing connection, identity and knowledge through the active practices of traditions such as fishing, weaving, sustainable harvesting, understanding the natural environment and caring for the whānau, then we begin to gain an appreciation for the endurance and resilience of Pacific people and their culture.

This has been an extraordinary period where a global pandemic has disrupted our way of life in so many ways. We are meeting on a virtual platform and increasing have had to change the way we participate in forums and share our perspectives. But just as we have shaped our response to COVID and the uncertainty it has created, we have adapted and continued to move towards creating the ‘new normal’ way of life.

Today I wanted to share how Aotearoa New Zealand will build on the Pacific Reset towards a Pacific Resilience approach; and why.

Our connection to the Pacific is reflected through language, peoples, ocean, history, culture, politics, and shared interests. Together, we share kaitiaki responsibilities for Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa — the Blue Ocean Continent. This concept is enduring and inter-generational: what we do for our children today, sets the course for our tamariki and mokopuna. When we consider livelihoods we speak to intergenerational objectives.

The centrality of the Pacific for Aotearoa means a common stance to ensure a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific; where Aotearoa New Zealand is seen as a partner. As we navigate our engagement in the region — across our foreign policy, trade, development, and our security partnerships — we need to draw on all the tools available in our kete to support our way forward.

The Pacific Reset and Our Signal for the Relationship to the Pacific

The Reset was a deliberate decision by Government to focus on the Pacific in our world outlook. The Reset acknowledged that New Zealand’s priority and future is linked to the Pacific and therefore we have a key interest in a safe, secure and prosperous region. Security in the region relies on strong relationships. The approach recognised the importance of partnership between Aotearoa and Pacific nations and the “reset” gave coherence and focus to more than 30 government agencies working with Pacific neighbours, this in turn sought to bolster the influence of likeminded partners in the region.

It also acknowledged that the region is facing an array of challenges and changes; social, environmental, security and economic. And this hasn’t changed. In fact the arrival of COVID-19 to our globe has severely hindered the progress for some Pacific Islands nations. As those at COP26 are currently highlighting, climate change remains the single biggest threat to the region. But COVID has exacerbated issues of equality and need, set back development gains and highlighted importance of support that delivers sustainable results.

Moving From Reset to Resilience a Natural Next Step

The move towards a resilience focus is a natural next step as we look at how to respond to the significant challenges of the here and now, founded on an authentic and values-based “Pacific Way”.

Now is the time to do so. COVID has stressed the region’s resilience. It has also taught us many lessons: learnings from what hasn’t worked as well as how integrated partnerships can strengthen resilience.

Our approach to health and governance during the pandemic is a clear example of this. At the request of Pacific partners, we have responded quickly to provide support for economies, health systems and social well-being. Our contributions have helped with pandemic preparedness, PPE supply, hospital upgrades, testing assistance, medical equipment, isolation and quarantine facilities and even the deployment of medical teams where requested.

Aotearoa has been able to provide emergency economic support to help Pacific Island countries meet their critical budget needs, respond directly to their individual needs, and work to their own priorities. We have provided $201.3m in emergency budget support to Pacific nations since the start of the pandemic.

Our strong health-to-health linkages with Polynesian countries in particular meant that we were able to act quickly to support pandemic planning and vaccination rollout. The Polynesian Health Corridors programme has been an importance vehicle for this assistance, and I want to acknowledge Associate Minister for Pacific Health Aupito William Sio for the work he is doing in this space. We have an opportunity to learn from these interactions to apply to our wider engagement, but we must also look at the next steps as we move from emergency response to recovery.

In that engagement we want to encourage others; states, economies, multilateral institutions, non-governmental organisations and community groups towards relationships that will strengthen Pacific aspirations. We want to acknowledge that building long-term resilience across the region requires an integrated approach as a collective.

We have a significant Pasifika population who have chosen Aotearoa as their home – one in ten New Zealanders will identify as being of Pacific Island heritage by 2026. Those who live here actively contribute to their ancestral homelands in a number of ways. I believe that we can engage Pacific diaspora communities in different ways to support broader objectives across the region.

An Enduring Framework for Pacific Relationships

As we recognise, build, maintain and strengthen our connection to the Pacific we do so based on respect for the mana of each nation. Mana holds a value that is reflected in the quality of the relationship rather than its frequency, it holds an enduring even intergenerational quality that is reinforced through people-to-people connections and if we get it right, may even extend to countries and governments. Mana is not subservient, and neither can it be taken for granted. Instead it is a series of engagements that strengthen the quality of a relationship and this can be fostered as a distinctive component of our diplomatic relationships in the region. Mana is also the measure of action beyond words, every year we prepare for the cyclone season because we understand how catastrophic these significant weather events can be on the livelihoods of whānau and communities across the Pacific.

Our relationships across the Pacific need to be founded in openness, trust and respect. We are all committed to the best outcome for the region together. This principle enables us to engage in open communication, and highlights the necessity of listening to understand different perspectives. Our engagement must be as partners. Each country has a different starting point and there will not be a one size fits all approach. We must listen to work together for the greater region’s strategic good.

Our Pacific partners also expect Aotearoa to be consistent and reliable when it matters most. How we engage in this challenging time, where competition in the region is greater than it has ever been before, will be key to many of our relationships.

Regional architecture must draw its strength from a “Pacific way” that seeks to establish rules and norms embedded in tikanga and Pacific-led solutions. Kotahitanga is a value that can support shared advocacy of regional priorities and a New Zealand perspective.

Common Objectives, including addressing Climate Change

Our international development cooperation supports our partners’ determination or mana motuhake to chart their own development pathways, with the Sustainable Development Goals as our common horizon. Supporting SDG outcomes across the Pacific at this time also furthers climate change objectives which is a priority for the region. We are working to accompany our partners on their journey to achieving the SDGs they prioritise. At the same time we are providing targeted support to build the capability of Pacific countries and the region more broadly to measure and report against the SDGs.

As extreme weather events intensify, sea level rises and temperatures increase, the economic and non-economic costs of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. 

For our part, New Zealand is taking action to reduce global emissions, ensure a fair and equitable transition of our economy, and build climate resilience both at home and abroad. I want to acknowledge our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister for Climate Change James Shaw. They have stewarded through important decisions that align our domestic focus and signalled in readiness for COP26 our international commitment. We have a responsibility to advocate for greater ambition which will also support Pacific nations who are already disproportionately impacted by the actions of developed nations.

Finance for adaptation is key for helping the Pacific avert and address these impacts. At least half of New Zealand’s new $1.3bn climate finance commitment will go to supporting the Pacific and at least half for adaptation. This is more than four times the size of our 2018 commitment of $300m.

New Zealand’s national circumstances and emissions profile present opportunity and challenge for reducing emissions. I am mindful that our ambition to work with the Pacific on climate related impacts links strongly to a resilience focus.

Building on this pathway we support approaches that aid a circular economy, where our Pacific partners have enhanced capacity to deliver on their national and regional priorities in sustainable environmental, economic, and social development.

These priorities are underpinned by – but go beyond – building resilience to climate change impacts. Our international development cooperation will support achievement of the full range of these resilience objectives and priorities. I anticipate that development cooperation delivered through this resilience framework – and seeded in a partnership approach – will shift the focus towards transformative impact.

Resilience a framework for developing a stronger region

I am committing Aotearoa to a resilience framework with the Pacific. One that builds intergenerational resilience across all areas: economic, planet and people.  As we start to look beyond the ongoing crisis response we need to plan for a secure future with partnership at the centre of our approach.

Pacific economies in particular have been stressed by COVID. COVID has disrupted our economies’ closed borders, caused a shut-down of tourism activity, and constrained labour flows to fulfil RSE arrangements. Pre-COVID, tourism generated NZ$5.6 billion for Pacific economies and nearly half a million New Zealanders visited the region in 2019, second only to Australia.

The pandemic has urged us to work towards economic integration in key areas to support an economic recovery and long-term resilience. Labour mobility, infrastructure, education and skills training are important areas for further partnering. Pacer Plus, with its potential for $3.1bn in two-way trade, may well help to pivot into this resilience frame and I look forward to supporting Minister Twyford and the work he is leading in this area.

When it comes to our planet, strong regional cooperation is essential for continued kaitiakitanga / sustainable conservation. That includes management of our region’s shared fisheries resources. Our long-term commitment to respond to illegal unreported and unregulated fishing in our region is key to supporting the region’s sustainable development.  Working with Pacific partners to support the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise to the global stage, through the Pacific Islands Forum also demonstrates our commitment to the issues that matter most to our region.

On people, we will align our contribution to supporting the capability and capacity across the Pacific. The work of the Pacific Public Service Fale to support Government Administration across the Pacific nations is one example of strategic alignment to focus on Public Sector excellence. We understand the importance of leadership and excellence across the public sector and are keen to offer support where we can. Another example is our work with MPI to provide peer-to-peer support to build fisheries management capacity in the region. 

Our approach and resourcing will be across the breadth of New Zealand’s engagement, to make the best use of government agencies, civil society, business and industry, regional organisations and other partners. Agencies such as Customs, Immigration, New Zealand Police, and Aviation Security have long standing relationships with their Pacific counterparts. We will work to embed Pacific cultural frameworks in our work, including by strengthening cultural competence and regional awareness. 

How we work is important

If we are to truly step over the threshold of the old way to the new way then taking a strengths and opportunity based approach is the new conversation space in our relationship. In short our confidence to find a new way is core to the resilience approach that I am promoting.

To help with this, I have set out principles which will guide our engagement with the region:

  • Tātai Hono – the recognition of deep and enduring whakapapa connections;
  • Tātou Tātou – all of us together;
  • Whāia te Taumata Ōhanga – journey towards a circular economy;
  • Turou Hawaiiki – navigating together; and,
  • Arongia ki Rangiātea – focus towards excellence

I’m also keen to ensure that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will consider implications for the Pacific and potential overlap in domestic policy objectives. An example of this is language revitalisation and the aspiration to ensure that the role we play here in Aotearoa can deliver a mutually reinforcing benefit to the Pacific.

I am asking the Ministry to embed Pacific cultural frameworks in the approach we take in working with Pacific partners. We do this by investing in the Pacific diversity of our organisation, building our cultural competence and ensuring that knowledge of the Pacific is core to the training of our workforce. How we project who we are as a country and the centrality of the Pacific means more staff need to work in and understand the region.  

A partnered approach for resilience also means encouraging impactful co-investment from actors outside the region and promoting Pacific priorities and Pacific ownership in our approach to cooperation. We need to find other opportunities that leverage economic, social, cultural and environmental advantage with Pacific partners. 

And we can’t do this alone. Australia is an indispensable partner. We will also work with and crowd-in a range of partners to build resilience by promoting Pacific priorities, Pacific ownership and the ‘Pacific way’.


Let me return to the metaphor of - ka pū te rūhā, ka hāo te rangatahi. With regards to the “net” much of what I have outlined should look and feel familiar. The tradition of net-making has some consistent principles in their design. However through the generations the way a “net” is set or cast can differ according to the location, tide whether it is being set from land or sea, and of course determined by what you are setting out to catch.

The Pacific Reset was very much focused on the “net” – reaffirming the importance of the relationship with the Pacific was the main purpose. A Pacific Resilience focus is about learning to “utilise the net” for maximum benefit – leveraging the Pacific Partnership for intergenerational impact.

The time is right for Aotearoa New Zealand’s Pacific engagement to move from Reset to Resilience. Resilience takes a Pacific-centric view of our collective interests in the region, shifting us to a strength-based approach that acknowledges building long-term resilience requires an ecosystem-wide response. Aotearoa New Zealand sits within that ecosystem.

The urgent and complex challenges facing our region are far greater than any of our differences, and I believe our strength and success to overcome these relies on the countries of the Blue Ocean Continent listening to each other, and acting together. Asserting our ambition for a peaceful, secure and prosperous Pacific region.

I look forward to continuing to work with our partners to build long-term resilience across the region to realise our shared goals. I also look forward to 2022 and the hope of extending my engagement as foreign minister to in-person meetings!

No reira, in ending I reiterate a statement of resilience e kore e ngaro he kākano I ruia mai I Rangiātea, One will not be lost as they are a seed cast forth from Rangiātea.

Tēnā koutou katoa.