Next Steps

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Foreign Affairs

Rt Hon Winston Peters

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Speech to Otago Foreign Policy School

29 June 2018


“Next steps”


Good evening,

Congratulations to the Otago Foreign Policy School for holding this event which is now in its 53rd year.

Earlier this year the coalition described how it was “shifting the dial” with a Pacific Reset to restore New Zealand’s relationships in the Pacific. In May, the coalition also announced through Budget 2018 its “First Steps” to restore lost capability and capacity in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Tonight’s speech outlines our foreign policy “Next Steps” to further redefine our voice internationally, with particular reference to the Asia Pacific region.

Moving forward in the Pacific

President Roosevelt once noted that “the Pacific Islands appear as small dots on the map or not at all. But they cover a large strategic area.” This is as true today as it was in the 1940s, particularly given increasing competition for influence and resources in the Pacific.

Against this backdrop, our eyes are wide open to New Zealand’s decreasing influence in the Pacific and we are committed to re-setting our approach to working with the Pacific. We want to be clear though – the reset is not about trying to control Pacific countries economically or politically. Instead, this reset is about working with our Pacific family to be independent and self-sufficient.

Some people might question why we should bother spending time and valuable taxpayer dollars doing this. From a purely economic standpoint this approach makes sense - every dollar spent today in the Pacific reduces the risk of expensive interventions in the future, whether military, border security or healthcare.

But this is also about doing what is right. New Zealand’s has a proud history of standing up for fairness, good governance, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, free media, and sustainable and fair economic development. We will do what is right in the Pacific in a pragmatic way – avoiding the pitfalls of both dreamy ivory tower idealism and zero sum power politics.

Our commitment to taking pragmatic action is clear in the $714 million increase in Official Development Assistance announced in Budget 18. This increase in ODA is also complemented by the addition of 50 foreign affairs positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.



As we stated in the Pacific reset policy, the government’s objective is change and not a modified status quo. We are seeking new approaches, not putting new labels on the same old bottles. This applies with our aid funding.

We seek to redefine New Zealand’s influence in the region in several ways. One way is by investing in footprint projects which last for 50 years or longer.  And these projects are not in isolation, they are partner projects with our friends be it from Europe, Japan, or Australia.

A further example of our stepped-up approach will be our support for a Kiribati land reclamation project as a response to the existential threat of climate change.  This week the Government of Kiribati said it is moving ahead with plans for reclaiming and climate proofing 300 hectares of land in Tarawa for housing. It will significantly improve the country’s climate change resilience. The New Zealand government will assist with this project, particularly because of its practical outcome.

Shifting the dial in the Pacific for such projects does require different funding channels than the status quo. For this reason MFAT is establishing a new Strategic International Development Fund. This will allow New Zealand to be flexible and responsive to the emerging needs of our Pacific partners.

Yet, as a small state New Zealand cannot do everything in the Pacific alone – we need partners. We greatly value our partnership with Australia in the Pacific and commend Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s recent comments which emphasized Australia’s special responsibility to support stability, security and prosperity amongst the small island nations in the North Pacific and South Pacific. We also acknowledge the United Kingdom’s decision to open 3 new diplomatic posts in the Pacific.

Strengthening our cooperation with other partners in support of stability and sustainable development in the Pacific was a central theme of our engagements in recent visits undertaken to Brussels, London, Noumea, Tokyo, and Beijing.

On Defence

New Zealand needs to apply all the levers at its disposal to advance our national interests and protect our sovereignty. In the context of increasing uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific region and our own Pacific reset, it has been timely to carry out a review of defence strategic policy.

The document is titled the Defence Strategic Policy Review, and will be released by the Defence Minister, the Hon Ron Mark, in the very near future.

Thematically the report identifies there have been recent significant developments in the global strategic environment. Great Power competition is back. Climate change is impacting our immediate neighbourhood. Across geography and domains, challenges once conceived as “future trends” have become present realities.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Such reviews also guide procurement. In terms of Defence Force equipment there are certain tasks we need to be able to perform. These include increasing resource protection activities, complex disaster relief operations, peace and stability operations, and regular engagement with regional security partners. 

This Government is determined to have the tools to defend and advance New Zealand’s interests.  You may well be aware the options for replacing the Defence Force P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft are under active consideration. No final cabinet decisions have been made at this point but serious progress is being made. The replacement option for maritime patrol aircraft will be the next significant announcement by the government on defence procurement.

The foreign policy compass

Behind all of this is our foreign policy compass.  As a government we are directing our foreign policy to focus on rules, relationships, regional architecture, and diversification. 

New Zealand’s value proposition as a partner obviously is not scale.  Increased diplomatic capability and appropriate defence assets help but it is the quality of our foreign policy which is critical.  New Zealand’s leverage internationally must rest on the quality of our ideas and the principles we promote, including our reputation as an honest broker.

It’s a reputation we need to protect. The Asia‑Pacific region is much more contested.  Great power rivalries have intensified.  Despite recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, the underlying challenges in Asia-Pacific are very complex.  Overall, there is less of a consensus on what the future of this region looks like and greater concern about the strain on the international rules-based order.

In response, New Zealand needs to strengthen its voice in our region.  We need to uphold our vision of an open an inclusive regional order, where international law prevails. 

Rules based order

Our mantra, unquestionably, is for pursuit of an open, inclusive, and rules-based regional order. There is a strong correlation between ensuring peace and open trade with our interest in rules. First and foremost is international law, from which New Zealand derives its right to access the region – notably freedom of navigation and overflight as well as the rules that underpin international trade and commerce.

We see some troubling developments. In the South China Sea, claimants in the various territorial disputes have acted in ways that challenge international law and norms.  Artificial island building in contested waters, construction, and militarisation risk escalating tensions. Hence, New Zealand urges parties to resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law and in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

Strengthening relationships

New Zealand also needs strong and trusted relationships. Not only must we value our international relationships but we must work to retain those relationships in the context of what we stand for and protecting our interests.

Our emphasis on international law, inclusivity, economic integration, trade, and respect for sovereignty makes us a constructive regional partner for most states. 

It goes without saying that Australia is our closest and most indispensable partner in this respect.  Overall history and shared values have shaped our most enduring partnerships.  It is also true a rules-based order will not function properly without buy-in from the world’s largest countries – the United States and China.

Shaping regional architecture

We welcome all states to work with New Zealand in multilateral settings as a way to support open trade and to manage political and security challenges. New Zealand has a keen interest in seeing regional architecture develop in ways that connect us as part of the Asia Pacific on favourable terms.  The Government will continue to stand with ASEAN as a partner in the Asia Pacific. New Zealand supports ASEAN centrality.

An Indo-Pacific configuration makes a lot of sense for some countries – certainly for Australia which has one coast on the Indian Ocean; and for India, bound into Asia by history, geography, and commerce.  However, the term “Asia Pacific” resonates with New Zealanders because of our own geography.  This is consistent with – and indeed complementary to – our partners’ policies.

Seeking diversification

An open and inclusive regional architecture – which includes multilateral political forums and economic initiatives that promote trade and economic integration – will help to diversify New Zealand’s portfolio of political and economic relationships. 

We must remain at the forefront of efforts to drive economic openness in the Asia Pacific – including through APEC, which we will host in 2021, CPTPP and a range of active trade negotiations with a diverse set of partners.

New Zealand has become increasingly resilient because of long-term diversification efforts. This needs to continue, and we must also take New Zealanders with us. To this end, my colleague, the Minister of Trade David Parker, has begun seeking public input as he develops a new progressive and inclusive ‘Trade for All’ agenda to pursue better market access for our exporters while maintaining a sustainable and inclusive national economic framework.

Redefining our voice

This foreign policy compass which favours rules, relationships, regional architecture, and diversification simply sets the direction.  Just how it plays out is another matter and partly rests on how we conduct ourselves as a country.

During this current disruptive phase of history, when the global system is under severe strain, the conundrum of being a small state actor becomes greater.  We face foreign policy challenges. It is both a time for being deliberate and a time to adapt. It also reinforces the need for New Zealand’s independent voice to be both subtle and strong.

There will always be times when New Zealand will need to speak out as we seek to protect our interests. Our eyes are wide open to this challenge but a fundamental question for our small state is to ask what does having an independent foreign policy mean in 2018?

In 1987, during the height of the ANZUS dispute, asserting New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy–and through it a nascent independent foreign policy–could be viewed as establishing New Zealand’s self-respect as a small state actor with strong values managing a dispute with an ally over the ultimate existential threat of nuclear weapons. 

In 2018, the international order is different, the relationships more complex, and a clear-sighted assessment of the challenges being faced is required.

Our actions–whether through defence procurement or by bolstering our foreign policy capacity – must give strength to our international voice and as a self-reliant small state with enduring and consistent values.

The government’s challenge to become more self-reliant is also yours. Small thinking leads to small outcomes. No more. To regain a truly independent voice requires the support of a sophisticated media and academia. That is my challenge to this audience today, to lift its contribution to necessary foreign policy adaptation. Conferences like the Otago Foreign Policy School help to inform foreign policy debate but orthodox analyses on their own won’t advance it.

New Zealand is at an inflexion point in its history so we encourage our best and brightest to challenge the orthodoxy of small state foreign policy analysis. It is not a time for intellectual timidity. It is a time for original thinking as we develop foreign policy prescriptions from adaptation rather than deliberate creation. Creative syntheses and challenging old verities is needed more than ever so be bold and take risks in your work. If you do you will find in this government a receptive ear to your ideas. 

As outlined in my speech today, New Zealand’s independent foreign policy is regaining its self- respect but we still need to better understand how to bolster our self-reliance. The ‘next steps’ signalled today will help us get there but we also need your help to inform government thinking as we seek to regain our true voice in the world. And there is not a moment to waste.

Thank you