Diplomacy - protecting our interests

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Foreign Affairs

Opening speech at the 54th Otago Foreign Policy School
29 June 2019

Congratulations to Otago University for the 54th year of holding the Foreign Policy School, and to Dr Dennis Wesselbaum for organising this year’s forum.

It is a very welcome sight to see you all here tonight interested in learning about and shaping our foreign affairs approach.

And it is also important to extend congratulations to the University of Otago for its 150th anniversary milestone.

This university should be proud of its academic tradition and scholarly work over one and a half centuries. 

And it is not lost on the rest of the country that your students are not shy of a party during the pursuit of their academic career.

First Steps

As Foreign Affairs Minister I attended your foreign policy school last year.

At the time, the new Coalition Government was in the process of taking a number of steps to intensify New Zealand’s international voice.

So with that in mind here is an outline this evening of what we have delivered in the past 18 months, and as well we can discuss some of the foreign policy challenges which immediately face us – in particular the trade risks before us.

In the last two Budgets, we have invested in rebuilding MFAT, boosting New Zealand’s aid budget and its Defence Force and other capability that enables New Zealand to achieve its objectives internationally.

This is manifesting itself with at least 70 additional Foreign Policy staff being deployed, and two new diplomatic posts having been opened in Europe – Stockholm and Dublin.

An additional $842 million over five years in Budgets 2018 and 2019 has been allocated to restore the New Zealand aid budget.  We have reversed the decline in official development assistance as a proportion of Gross National Income (GNI) and instead sustained it at 0.28 percent of GNI.

Alongside restoring capacity for diplomacy and development, this Government is investing in defence and other infrastructure that we need to pursue our interests and values internationally.

The Government has committed $2.3 billion to replace the P3 Orions with P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. These will support maritime surveillance, disaster response and resource protection in the South Pacific and global peace and security operations such as counter-piracy missions.

The Defence Capability Plan announced this month will further improve the ability of the Defence Force to respond to the strategic environment New Zealand faces, including through replacement of the aging Hercules fleet.

A continuous presence at Scott Base is crucial to achieve New Zealand’s interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.  To that end, the Government has provided $19.4 million for Antarctica New Zealand to continue the preparatory work for the redevelopment of Scott Base.

As we announced this morning, the Government has selected a design option which enhances the science and operational capabilities of the base, improves the living conditions for staff, and future proofs the facility for the next 50 years.

The Pacific Reset

You will be aware a signature policy we are currently delivering is the Pacific Reset.  At the heart of this initiative is building deeper partnerships with the Pacific. 

The Pacific Reset recognises our shared identity.  We are joined by geography, history, politics, shared interests and demographics. Never before have our prosperity and security been more fundamentally intertwined. 

The environmental, economic and human development challenges facing the region are many and complex.  At the same time, global interest in the Pacific is increasing; this presents both opportunity and risk.

The Government has exercised a new approach to the region. The Pacific Reset reflects New Zealand’s greater strategic ambition and investment in the Pacific, with an emphasis on both what we doing, as well as how we operate.

At the centre of this is a fundamental shift in the way we work with our Pacific partners. We are moving away from donor-recipient dynamics of the past, and building more mature political partnerships that can support discussion on all issues.

This Government has led three cross-party delegations to the Pacific, visiting nine countries, alongside numerous other bilateral visits. We have also welcomed many Pacific Leaders in New Zealand.

In our contacts with other international partners, New Zealand is encouraging increased engagement in support of the Pacific in a way that aligns with Pacific priorities and values.  New Zealand has welcomed the UK’s decision to establish three new high commissions in the region.

You may be aware from a previous speech given in Washington last year that as Foreign Minister we have advocated the United States increase its engagement in our region.

In this regard critics interpreted the speech as evidence of a shift in foreign policy to be more aligned with the US.  This is not a “where America goes we go” policy. It’s the opposite.  We are saying where we go in the Pacific - so too should America. 

 An independent voice

There is an underlying value which drives our foreign affairs policy.

Our goal is to forge a principled, independent foreign policy driven by our national interests and embedded in our national values and experience.

Patently there are, and will continue to be, challenges. The global environment is not getting any easier.

We are contending with intensifying strategic competition between the great powers, pressure on the rules and norms that have defined the global and regional order, an increase in protectionism, and ongoing security threats.    

The importance of a foreign policy based on a clear-eyed assessment of New Zealand’s interests and our bedrock New Zealand values has never been more important.

Making New Zealand safer  

As always it remains important for New Zealand to seek to play a role on the world stage as much as possible and in many shapes and forms. It is the best way to protect democratic values and enhancing security.

New Zealand is continuing to contribute to global efforts to counter terrorism. In Iraq, we have deployed a non-combat training mission as part of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition since 2015. Alongside Australia, the NZ Defence Force has trained over 44,000 personnel from the Iraqi Security Forces, strengthening their ability to defeat and prevent the resurgence of ISIS. 

Recognising the success of this mission – which helped contribute to the liberation of Iraqi territory from ISIS contol in December 2017 – the Government has recently decided that the NZDF deployment to Taji will continue until the end of June 2020, at which point we will withdraw.

The Government has decided to extend New Zealand’s deployment  to Afghanistan, which forms part of international efforts to prevent the country from once again being used as a safe haven for terrorist groups with global aspirations. 

Since 2013, a small number of NZDF personnel have helped train approximately 5000 Afghan Army Officer Cadets in military skills, leadership values, human rights and the law of armed conflict.  These cadets have included a number of women, contributing to a signficant shift in female representation in the Afghan National Army. New Zealand will continue to support this, including by pursuing additional opportunities to support Women, Peace and Security initiatives in Afghanistan.

The precariousness of our region’s security was demonstrated by North Korea’s missile tests and the escalating tension related to its nuclear programme from 2017.

The Government has strongly condemned the missile tests, supported UN sanctions and welcomed efforts at dialogue, in line with our steadfast support for the denuclearisation of North Korea. 

In September 2018 the Government deployed a RNZAF maritime patrol aircraft to undertake surveillance above international waters in North Asia in support of efforts led by the United States to enforce  UN  sanctions. We also contributed to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s work in monitoring North Korea’s nuclear programme.

And now there are parallels emerging in the renewed contest between Iran and the United States that is being played out in the Gulf of Oman.

New Zealand, under successive governments, has been clear and consistent in our support for the Iran nuclear deal and has urged Iran – like many others in the international community – to stay in compliance with the deal.

We are seriously concerned by the latest provocative incidents in the region and this Government has condemned all attacks on civilian shipping as completely unacceptable. The safety of and security of international waters and indeed international airspace is of great importance to all trading nations – including New Zealand.

The shooting down of a US drone by Iran on 20 June is therefore a further unnecessary and unhelpful escalation.

We welcomed President Trump’s decision to resist retaliatory strikes and his comments about the principle of proportionality in deciding not to take military action for the shooting down of that unarmed drone.

New Zealand continues to call on all parties to exercise restraint and exercise common sense to avoid steps which could undermine peace and security.

Simply put – our economic security is best served by encouraging diplomacy to avoid flashpoints escalating. It is also at times like these that we need to maintain core values – such as preventing the expansion of nuclear weaponry.

Trade horizons

Apart from advocating against any disruption of trade flows, New Zealand’s foreign policy and economic interests require momentum to open up new trade horizons. The arguments for trade as being mutually beneficial are too strong to ignore, and protectionist sentiment does not help anybody’s interest.

The entry into force in December 2018 of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP) with ten other countries across the Asia-Pacific region is both strategically and economically valuable to New Zealand. CPTPP will reduce tariffs charged on New Zealand goods exports to CPTPP countries by $222 million at full implementation.

We launched FTA negotiations with the European Union last year. Securing the EU’s agreement to take this step required high level advocacy from the Prime Minister down. Enhanced access to the EU market of half a billion consumers offers the potential of increasing exports by 20%.

The Prime Minister’s recent visit to Beijing confirmed the value of the relationship to both parties, secured agreement to conclude the FTA upgrade negotiations as soon as possible, and delivered an updated Double Taxation Agreement, a new financial dialogue and  new science and innovation as well as agricultural and climate change cooperation.

This Government has successfully positioned New Zealand for any outcome from the uncertain Brexit process. The UK has agreed that a post-Brexit FTA with New Zealand will be one of the first cabs off the rank.

New Zealand achieved a breakthrough with the passage of the KIWI Act through the US Congress in 2018, making it easier and less costly for New Zealand business people to operate in the United States.

And it remains an objective for New Zealand to seek a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States which, after all, is the world’s largest economy and a nation which we have a long history of shared values and democratic traditions.

In the eyes of some this may appear an optimistic objective but as a small player having the broadest possible trading portfolio is demonstrably in our best interests.

Looking at the latest developments in the Middle East underscores just how quickly challenges can emerge to our trading routes and cause ripples of concern to sweep through markets.

In conclusion, this Government’s international record shows we are holding to our principles, reflecting New Zealanders’ values, energetically pursuing the interests of our country, backing our vision with resources, and delivering outcomes for New Zealanders, the Pacific and the world.

We are achieving all this in a testing global environment that demands skilful management of our international relationships. 

This work is never complete but we are well down the path of creating an international reputation New Zealanders can be proud of.