New Zealand's relationship with Asia

  • Winston Peters
Foreign Affairs

Foreign Minister Winston Peters' address to the Asia:NZ Young Leaders Forum, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wellington, on November 20.

Members of the Asia:New Zealand Foundation, delegates to the inaugural Asia:New Zealand Young Leaders Forum.

It is good to join you on the first day of what promises to be an interesting and productive week. To delegates visiting New Zealand, welcome on behalf of the New Zealand government.

This forum brings together a talented group of young people from across our region as part of the Asia:New Zealand Foundation’s ongoing efforts to achieve greater connection between New Zealand and Asia.

New Zealand is a part of the wider Asian region, not only because of a geographic proximity, but because our political, economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the region.

As I frequently remind some of my colleagues in Asia, New Zealand’s indigenous people are Asian in origin. The DNA is irrefutable.

After the Second World War, New Zealand, along with many countries of the region, began to find its own voice in international affairs. We worked hard to help rebuild the foundations of peace and prosperity in Asia through development assistance (for example the Colombo Plan) and through deployment of our defence forces.

Those activities served, and continue to serve us well. However, now we look at Asia through a different set of lenses – as a region of great diversity, and increasing dynamism and prosperity.

The region's strong economic growth has helped lift New Zealand's own level of prosperity.

The value of New Zealand's exports to Asia now outstrips our trade with the more traditional markets of Australia, Europe and the United States. Half of our top twenty export markets are Asia, with the major economies of Japan, China and Korea in the top six.

New Zealand also has significant formal links with Asia, which range from trade and economic interaction, through to political and security dialogue, and co-operation in multilateral and regional operations.

Along with our longstanding Closer Economic Relationship with Australia, we also have Closer Economic Partnerships with Thailand, Singapore, Chile and Brunei. We are in the process of negotiating free trade agreements with China, Malaysia and with all of ASEAN.

But New Zealand is not alone in the negotiation process. We are conscious of the “noodle bowl” of preferential trading agreements that criss-crosses Asia, and the importance of continuing to develop formal trading relationships. If we don’t, New Zealand companies will be disadvantaged and our economic growth will be constrained.

Some New Zealand exporters are already experiencing difficulty in the Korean market due to the recently concluded Korea/Chile Free Trade Agreement. New Zealand kiwifruit exports, for example, are being affected by the tariff preference given to Chilean kiwifruit exports.

Asia is a region that is undergoing rapid change, but also one that is increasingly confident and outward looking. The East Asian Summit process is a reflection of this confidence. Alongside such political initiatives, the regional economic architecture is also evolving rapidly. New Zealand is well tapped into these developments, and committed to remaining actively engaged.

In terms of security, the linkages between Asia and New Zealand are increasingly important, as our collective commitment to regional stability and prosperity is tested by international events.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme represents a clear threat to the security of the Asia-Pacific region. New Zealand has joined the international community, including our key partners in Asia, in unequivocally condemning Pyongyang’s nuclear test, which was provocative and irresponsible.

New Zealand’s involvement in efforts to resolve the North Korean issue reflects our commitment to regional security. We will continue to engage with the key players on the issue of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. We have urged North Korea to return to the negotiating table, and welcomed their commitment to re-engage in the Six Party Talks.

In May 2006 New Zealand deployed police and military troops to Timor-Leste in response to the Timorese government’s request for help to restore law and order in Dili. The internal problems facing Timor-Leste will not be easily resolved, but we are committed to assisting for as long as is necessary to ensure stability and freedom of movement there.

North Korea and Timor-Leste are just two examples of New Zealand’s ongoing commitment to security in Asia.

We also have to bear in mind that security issues are generally unforeseen and that most countries, acting individually, have limited control over international events.

We are all aware of the problems associated with terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, people-smuggling and other trans-national “problems without borders”, all of which require a co-ordinated effort if they are to be beaten.

New Zealand has Police and Customs officers in our Embassies in Bangkok and Beijing. They work closely with their counterparts in those countries in a bid to deal with transnational crime at its source. This benefits us all.

While we aim to consolidate our existing trade and security relationships, we also have to remain conscious of the way relationships between New Zealand and countries in Asia will develop in the future.

The globalisation of both politics and economics imply that international relations will always be in a constant state of evolution, presenting challenges in the way in which bilateral relationships are managed.

The importance of ongoing dialogue, negotiation and collaboration between New Zealand and other countries in the Asian region cannot be overstated.

The New Zealand government is strongly focussed on the development of bilateral relationships and multilateral institutions. There are a number of Asian regional groupings and organisations that potentially offer valuable security, political and economic linkages.

It is important that these groupings are outward looking and that they engage key global players. The United States and Russia are already active in APEC, and our own involvement will remain of strategic importance.

As you know, I have just come back from the latest APEC meeting in Hanoi, where I discussed regional issues with, among others, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Minister Li, and Foreign Minister Yeo.

The government also values its involvement in the East Asia Summit, which is intended to deepen links between countries ASEAN and other countries in the region. We are looking forward to next month’s meeting in Cebu.

China and India have emerged as major global economic forces. Japan continues to be an economic powerhouse, as is Korea. ASEAN countries, with their diverse political, cultural and economic relationships are also on the move.

New Zealand cannot afford to stand apart from these changes within a region that is strongly shaping our future. New Zealand’s participation in the EAS marks a new stage in our relations with East Asia and is recognition of New Zealand’s commitment to the region.

However the relationships that New Zealand shares with its Asian neighbours are not only of importance economically.

Increasingly important to New Zealand’s relationship with countries in the Asian region are the links that are created by personal contact.

Many young New Zealanders these days look first to Asia as the destination of what we call "the Big OE".

Asian students, some of whom are represented here today, contribute to New Zealand’s diverse society. We value that contribution and we hope to increase the people-to-people links between New Zealand and our friends from Asia.

Those linkages are created by many interactions – from trade and enterprise, to cultural exchange that takes place via tourism and education, to fora such as this, where our future leaders meet to discuss issues, learn together, deepen our understanding of each others cultures, and to make lasting friendships.

As I have said, New Zealand already has a vibrant and diverse society, and New Zealanders are increasingly “Asia literate”, but there is room for improvement in this regard. The New Zealand government is making serious efforts to increase New Zealanders’ understanding of Asia.

By your involvement in a forum such as this, you are actively playing an important role in helping advance international relations in the region.

I sincerely hope that you all get as much as you can out of the opportunities provided to you during this forum, and that in your future endeavours you will continue to make a positive contribution here in New Zealand or in your home countries, to advance the cooperation and prosperity of our region.