Aotearoa New Zealand's Place in a Troubled World: Partnership and Partnering to deliver international solutions

Foreign Affairs

Introduction – mihi whakatau

“Mānawa maiea te putanga o Matariki,

Mānawa maiea te ariki o te rangi,

Mānawa maiea re Mātahi o te Tau”

"Celebrate the rising of Matariki,

Celebrate the rising of the Ariki of the sky,

Celebrate the rising of the New Year."

This invitation to join you today marks the phase of Matariki and the beginning of the Māori New Year.

Today, I want to highlight the significance of fostering partnerships in our foreign policy and collaborating to devise solutions – at home, in the Pacific, our wider region and across the globe.

Foreign policy has never been more important.  

Our Sense of Place and What We Value

For a generation or more, Aotearoa, New Zealand, has enjoyed a comparatively stable and secure world, our interests and values have been reinforced by our commitment to an International rules-based system, by being an ardent supporter of multilateralism, a defender of universal human rights, a promoter of non-proliferation and disarmament and more recently an advocate for collective action on climate change.

But many of the assumptions that have underpinned our foreign policy for decades are being challenged, from globalisation to the effectiveness of some multilateral institutions to the benign nature of our Pacific neighbourhood.

We have also evolved as a relatively young nation moving beyond our colonial past towards a future confidently located in and of the Pacific, articulating ourselves in a Pacific-centric way.

We live in a world where the existing rules and norms are being increasingly challenged, eroded, or disregarded. A country of our size and location relies on an international rules-based system to assert our common interests of shared prosperity, peace and stability.

From its earliest days - when Sir Peter Fraser signed the UN Charter on behalf of New Zealand in June 1945 - we have recognised that our well-being is closely tied to this international system:

  • its commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity; 
  • to democratic values;
  • to openness and transparency; 
  • to universal human rights; and 
  • to multilateralism as the best means for solving global problems.

A shift to a more contested environment is unsettling for countries that benefit from the security of international rules and norms.  A challenge to this system has wider ramifications contributing to poverty levels, indebtedness, conflict, economic exclusion and human rights abuses.

We are also living in a world where geostrategic issues are firmly back on the diplomatic agenda. This is nowhere more apparent than in our wider home region, the Indo-Pacific. 

And we live in a world where concerns about resilience and economic security increasingly trump economic efficiency. Add to this the climate change crisis and environmental degradation – the future seems more uncertain.   

These are challenging times for small states like Aotearoa. 

In my speech to the Diplomatic Corps last month, I spoke of the importance of giving ourselves options in a more contested environment, whether through domestic resilience, diplomacy, development assistance, or security and defence interests. 

I spoke of what an independent foreign policy means in this troubled world:

  • that we must have a robust and clear-eyed assessment of our interests and values in any given situation; and
  • determine which tools are the right fit for our national circumstances. 

I made it clear that an independent foreign policy does not mean isolation, neutrality, or a fixed pre-determined view of how we will act on a particular issue.

While we may sometimes choose to champion issues "against the odds", an independent foreign policy does not mean, and has never meant, "flying solo".  

Our Approach towards Partnering

I have spoken before about how we are guided in our foreign policy by our national identity and our sense of place in the world. Our journey as a nation has been marked by challenge as we seek to reference our founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi. 

The Treaty is a symbol principles of partnership and mutual respect providing the groundwork for how we execute our foreign policy today.

Both Māori and the Crown continue to evolve and grow from this partnership, and we will continue to evolve as a nationhood. Our experience in fostering bi-cultural relationships offers valuable insights to other nations grappling with similar challenges.

Alongside a well-established western viewpoint of foreign policy, we are also drawing on Māori perspectives to enable a richer understanding of the shifting environment in our region. This approach aligns us closely with interests in our Pacific region, fostering a stronger resonance with our Pacific neighbours. 

Shared values across the Pacific such as whanaungatanga (connection), kotahitanga (common purpose), Kaitiakitanga (stewardship), and manaakitanga (reciprocity) exemplify partnerships that are substantive, reciprocal, enduring – where respect for mana is paramount – as is sovereignty. They can apply equally to relationships between individuals and peoples, as much as between countries and governments, large and small. Implicitly these values reinforce the core features of the diplomatic toolkit: relationships, equality and a notion that 'power' emanates from mutual responsibility and reciprocity – a very different way of thinking and acting.

Partnerships and Relationships Matter In Good and Hard Times

Partnerships and relationships are a key pou or pillar of our foreign policy. And they are essential to understanding Aotearoa, New Zealand's place in a world fraught with challenge.

Partnerships act as catalysts counterbalancing our weaknesses while augmenting our strengths and influence.

In a troubled world partnerships, where shared values, commitment to the multilateral system, and common agendas on climate, human rights and regional stability become increasingly treasured. But our global partnerships are not exclusively with those mirroring our views. 

Although the international environment may be more complicated, it does not represent "a new Cold War" or require binary choices. We engage with a broad range of global partners. We look to expand our points of commonality, minimise our points of difference, and advocate strongly for approaches that reflect our interests and values. An independent foreign policy requires nothing less. 

Finally, like all states, Aotearoa cannot be "Everything Everywhere All At Once". Although our small size accentuates the value of partnerships, our capacity to engage can, at times, face real constraints. With these points in mind, let me turn to some of Aotearoa New Zealand's key relationships.

Australia and the Pacific

Our relationship with Australia surpasses friendship.  Australia is our indispensable partner. We are fortunate to have a neighbour and ally that shares almost all of our interests and wants us to succeed. We have similar histories and political institutions, and we share many values. We both have important partnerships between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples and a commitment to progress these in positive ways.

Australia is our only formal ally. We are both more secure when we are working together and engaged in common cause. We are fellow advocates for regional and global rules. New Zealand has welcomed the Albanese government's progressive steps on climate change, which has allowed us to work together much more closely on this existential threat, especially in the Pacific. 

Our economies are deeply integrated. The Closer Economic Relations Agreement (CER), marking its 40th anniversary this year, is one of the world's most far-reaching Free Trade Agreements, and its Single Economic Market architecture is fundamental to New Zealand's economic wellbeing and stability. We’re joined hands with Australia  global solutions for decades, from peace deployments and military support operations to disaster response, and UN initiatives. 

We are both in and of the Pacific; we are committed to partnering with Pacific countries to support them in addressing the real challenges they face that are economic, environmental, social and political.

Our whakapapa links Aotearoa to the Pacific. Our presence and relationships in the Pacific are our most important and have been forged over a long period of time. We have shared perspectives on regional security where a 'family first' approach underscored by the Boe declaration.  This approach encourages an open and transparent view of how Pacific partners act towards each other's common interests. Any departure from this has heightened vigilance amongst Pacific partners.

We are orienting our approach to partner resilience in the Pacific as we seek to ensure that our IDC (International Development Cooperation) Programme supports national priorities, is inclusive, and delivers on local aspirations. The OECD Development Assistance Committee recently commended our efforts to collaborate with partners and tailor our development cooperation to Pacific-led priorities.

The Pacific a tapestry of bilateral partnerships

Recent travel has deepened my perspective on our relationships in the region and further afield.

We maintain a real opportunity across the Indo-Pacific region to strengthen our regional partnerships across a number of priority areas. New Zealand shares a long history of cooperation with ASEAN and the ASEAN-centred regional architecture. It has supported massive increases in prosperity, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. 

In a region of such diversity, we will not see eye-to-eye on all issues. Where we have differences, we must have the maturity to discuss these openly and with candour. We are working closely with the ASEAN membership, including Indonesia as the current Chair, as we pursue our shared vision for an open, inclusive, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. We are also working bilaterally with Indonesia to grow our economic partnership and tackle development challenges, climate change, transnational organised crime, and illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. 

Further North, Japan and South Korea are key economic and security partners who share our vision for an open, inclusive, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.  We have together assisted regional efforts to monitor UN sanctions aimed at North Korea's weapons of mass destruction programmes and support the UN Command in Korea.

Elsewhere, we will continue to invest and build on our relationships, including Singapore and India. India, the world's most populous country and the world's fifth-largest economy, is a vital actor and an important partner. Building on the significant lift over the last year, we will grow and invest in our relationship seeking a step change to broaden areas of opportunity and cooperation.

India, Korea and the US have recently hosted summits with Pacific Islands Forum Leaders to prioritise a focus on the aspirations of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. This reinforces existing architecture by focusing on Pacific priorities and engages the region in the way Japan does through its Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM), by facilitating meaningful conversations about what matters to the Pacific, the Pacific way.

Looking out to the broader Indo-Pacific, China is our largest trading partner and a significant relationship. Yet it's important to stress that our relationship with China extends beyond trade and economics, inclusive of longstanding people-to-people and cultural connections. China's rise over the last four decades has been the most remarkable story of development in our lifetime. And China's rise and, more recently, its more assertive foreign policy provide the backdrop to some of the trends I referred to earlier. 

The United States remains fundamental to the underpinning of the international system, and we recognise the important role of the US to uphold and promote the international rule of law.  We have reaffirmed our strategic partnership, shared values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and global security.

Further afield, our relationships across the Middle East and Africa continue to develop and diversify. Successful cooperation with regional partners was key to supporting New Zealand with the assisted departures from Afghanistan in 2021.  

And though geographically more remote, our relationships with Europe, EU Member States, Canada and the United Kingdom are long standing and significant. 

The UK is one of our oldest friends and closest partners, with a relationship built on trust that allows us to cooperate on the entire spectrum of policy issues: foreign and domestic.  Just last week we welcomed the entry into force of the UK/NZ Free Trade Agreement.

The European Union is an important partner with whom we share a deep commitment to democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, and international citizenship.  We hope to be in a position to sign the EU/NZ FTA soon.  The value of these relationships was reinforced to me during my meetings with the EU and other European partners in Brussels recently. In a troubled world, these relationships are more important than ever.

In the context of all of these partnerships, I would just reiterate our commitment to engage on matters where we find common ground and those that are difficult and challenging. 

Multilateral / International Coalitions and Groupings 

Partnerships are also vital in our multilateral engagement.

It enables us to shape international norms, provides us with ways to defend these, and enables us to address cross-border challenges we cannot resolve alone. 

We have actively contributed to the multilateral system in areas such as international trade policy, nuclear disarmament, human rights, climate change, and the law of the sea.

Getting agreement from 193 UN members on anything is no easy feat. Partnerships and interest-based coalitions are essential.

They bring together diverse sources of knowledge and influence, muster collective weight, and achieve greater legitimacy for our efforts.  

The composition of the groups we work with inevitably varies according to the issue at hand, based on which countries share our specific interests, objectives and approach. To take some examples:

  • On nuclear disarmament, New Zealand works alongside Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico and South Africa as part of the New Agenda Coalition to pursue the progressive elimination of nuclear weapons. 
  • New Zealand also played a leading role in a 'core group' of countries supporting Vanuatu's successful request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change, ratcheting up global pressure for urgent climate action. 
  • We joined the overwhelming majority of countries in condemning Russia's illegal, unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. And we have worked with like-minded partners to seek accountability for Russia's actions through the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
  • In the Canada-led "Initiative Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations", we have joined 70 countries to protect fundamental human rights principles.  

To combat climate change, New Zealand works through groupings such as the High Ambition Coalition. And we partner with a diverse range of countries to support our domestic transition and finance mitigation and adaption efforts in the Pacific.

Sustainable management of oceans is another challenge requiring a global response. New Zealand and its Pacific partners played a leading role in negotiating UNCLOS – our "Constitution of the Oceans".

In March, we welcomed the successful conclusion of a new global agreement to protect high-seas biodiversity. This is a huge win for our oceans and demonstrates that the multilateral system can still deliver solutions for the world's most complex and pressing challenges.

We are also working with Pacific partners to ensure their rights, statehood, and the protection of persons are not undermined by climate change-induced sea level rise.

And diverse coalitions are crucial to defending our core values, including liberal democracy and fundamental human rights. This involves traditional partners from Australia, North America, and Europe, and also like-minded countries in Latin America, East Asia and the Pacific, and, where possible, with countries in Africa and south-east Asia. A coalition of common interests enables countries like ours to continue to build a broad base of support on a number of issues.

Finally, partnerships with non-state actors are a vital means of achieving multilateral solutions. In the disarmament agenda, for example, non-state actors help place humanitarian impacts at the centre of discussions. We act in a similar way with our non-state actor partners in other areas such as on the Christchurch call led by our special envoy Dame Jacinda Ardern.

These are some of the areas where multilateralism serves our interests and the issues that are important to us.

Concluding comments

In conclusion as the world evolves so must our foreign policy. Guided by our interests and values we will continue to invest in relationships and partnerships - bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally.  In navigating this changing world it is these partnerships that will help us stand firmly and with confidence amidst an increasingly complex and challenging world.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa – thank you.