Prime Minister’s Foreign Policy Speech to NZIIA

Prime Minister

Introduction

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā rau rangatira mā.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Dr Richard Grant, Chair of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs - thank you for your welcome.

Honourable Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Honourable Andrew Little, Minister of Defence.

Members of Parliament, welcome.

I acknowledge the Dean and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

Members of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs. 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.

Can I thank the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs for co-hosting this speech, here at Parliament.

Today I want the opportunity to talk about New Zealand’s approach to a more unpredictable and complex world and set out how our Government is acting to protect and advance the safety and security of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

And I want to do that by expanding on those recent international engagements and share some of those observations I have from those. 

The global context

I started as Prime Minister just over six months ago, at a time of significant strain, both domestically and internationally.

The COVID years had a chilling effect on global systems of commerce and diplomacy and as they thawed cracks emerged everywhere.

The greatest global health emergency since the 1918 influenza pandemic was followed by the greatest global economic shock since the great depression.

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine sparked a global energy price shock of a level not seen since the oil crisis of the 1970s. 

It has also had a major impact on global food supplies, and contributed significantly to global inflationary pressures we are seeing around the world.

Meanwhile diplomacy was largely happening by zoom, and it often felt like the mute button was still on.

The anxiety caused by COVID and border closures increased domestic tensions.

Globally we have seen a rise in political polarisation, a rise in more nationalist posturing, and a move away from political rationalism towards the fringe, often spurred along by mis and dis-information.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying it was a rather interesting time for a boy from the Hutt.

And it certainly has been an interesting six months in the job so far.

Although only in the role a short time, I’ve been focussed on playing my part to strengthen and enhance the range of our existing relationships New Zealand holds and to advance our trade opportunities.

I firmly believe that in an increasingly volatile world, shoring-up and strengthening our closest relationships is key to our economic prosperity, enhancing our national security, and promoting domestic harmony.

So, if you came today to hear me set out a radical departure in our foreign policy, I’m sorry to let you down.

If anything, my approach in the international sphere is not that dissimilar to my priorities at home – getting back to basics and dealing with the bread and butter issues in front of us.

In foreign policy terms it means making sure that we have greater economic resilience across our trade markets in a time of global uncertainty.

The more that I’ve been in the role the more I’ve seen first-hand the enormous benefits of our independent foreign policy, our role as an honest broker, and the importance of our close relationships in enhancing our prosperity and security.

It is important to stress at this point independent does not mean neutral.

As a country, we may be small, but we are not bystanders. We chart our own course, with decisions that are in our national interest.

I want to start today by reviewing some of those relationships and the enhancements we’ve made this year.

Australia

My first overseas trip as Prime Minister was a flying visit to Australia to meet with Prime Minister Albanese.

Relationships matter. In both Australia and in Prime Minister Albanese, New Zealand has a close friend and ally.

2023 marks a number of special anniversaries in the trans-Tasman relationship; 40 years of Closer Economic Relations, the 50th anniversary of the trans-Tasman travel arrangement and 80 years of diplomatic relationships.

I believe the trans-Tasman relationship is the strongest it has been in decades.

In particular for New Zealand, the acknowledgment by the Australian Government of the corrosiveness of the 501 deportation issue, and the establishment of a pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders in Australia were historic breakthroughs that successive New Zealand Government’s had sought progress on.

For some time these issues had been placing a strain on an otherwise strong relationship.

But those tensions dissipated at the citizenship ceremony I attended in Brisbane just before ANZAC day.

Australia opened its arms to the hard working and law-abiding New Zealanders who have chosen to call Australia home.

It was a special moment and it tightened the bonds between our two countries, and we decided to celebrate via our countries’ shared tradition of a barbecue.

I’m proud of what Prime Minister Albanese and I have achieved together just this year, and there is more we want to do.

The US

We also work closely with our long-standing friend and partner the United States.

The US has long been pivotal to setting up and maintaining the system of international rules and norms that helps keep New Zealanders and our interests safe.

It was great to meet with Secretary Blinken earlier this year, and of course Dame Jacinda Ardern met President Biden in the White House late last year.

In those meetings we welcomed the increased US engagement in the Pacific and the wider Indo-Pacific region. 

For our part we are actively engaged in processes such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, a next-generation regional trade and investment initiative from the Biden administration.

We are hopeful this will open up greater opportunities for economic engagement between our two countries and the region as a whole.

UK and Europe

When I announced my schedule for overseas travel, I said trade would be at the forefront of my agenda.

Expanding trade opportunities for New Zealand exporters is central to the Government’s economic recovery plan.

Often trade agreements are seen only in the abstract, as pieces of paper with little impact on the regular ordinary New Zealanders on the Main Streets of our towns and cities.

But I see a direct link between our efforts internationally and helping Kiwis struggling with the cost of living at home.

More trade means more sales for local businesses, whether they are the likes of Fonterra and Zespri, or a fledgling gaming company with 20 employees, or an importer of EVs.

Trade lifts wages, improves our balance of payments, and makes the country and everyone in it, wealthier.

But vigilance is required.

As economic conditions tighten globally and locally, making sure our eggs are spread across a range of baskets offers us a greater level of protection.

To support greater market diversification, since 2017 the Government has secured or upgraded seven different FTAs.

73.5 percent of our total exports will be covered by an FTA once the EU FTA enters into force, up from around 50 percent when we took office.

Securing entry into force of the UK FTA was the primary goal of my visit to London in May.

In a way the FTA with the UK is somewhat of a full circle with 99.5 percent of our current trade now able to enter duty-free into the UK through a combination of tariff elimination and duty-free quotas.

Valued at up to $1 billion a year to GDP it’s expected to boost our goods exports to the UK by over 50 percent.

This access to what had previously been a difficult and restrictive market was historic.

While in London I had a very warm meeting with Prime Minister Sunak at No.10.

For me the meeting was characterised by the ease of the conversation and strength of our alignment on so many issues, commonality forged over decades by Government and people to people ties.

Like with Australia, many New Zealanders will have lived and worked in the UK, as I did. Many are descendants or have relatives there.

And of course, for Maōri the relationship was forged through the Treaty of Waitangi and the rights and recognitions it conferred.

But it goes beyond that.

While in the UK I also met our NZDF troops, who alongside the UK and other partners, are training Ukrainian armed forces in the basics of warfare.

It was humbling to be in the presence of these recent civilians who had joined the army to defend their country.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended a long period of peace in Europe and has posed the most acute threat to the international rules-based system since World War II. 

So this visit not only strengthened my resolve in relation to the ongoing support we must supply to Ukraine in order to defeat Russia, but also the absolute necessity to avoid armed conflict where we can.

Some of the men I met that day may now no longer be with us. Lawyers, teachers, builders. Husbands, fathers and sons. Innocents in a war not of their making.

The Government has provided significant diplomatic, military and humanitarian assistance, and we will continue to play our part in supporting the people of Ukraine.

We will keep making targeted contributions where they can make the greatest difference.

But alongside that we must continue to fly the flag for peace, conflict resolution and disarmament.

In a world rushing to take sides on a range of conflicts it’s essential New Zealand plays a role in avoiding polarisation – it’s what we’re good at and known for.

After all, our greatest foreign policy touchstones are our independence and our nuclear free position: they are what help us open doors, help us to act as honest brokers and ultimately keep us safer.   

The Pacific  

In our first term in Government, we instituted a foreign policy pivot, the Pacific reset, that shifted New Zealand’s attention and resource to a greater degree in our region.

Arguably for too long our attention was further afield and we had paid too little attention to our relationships with our closest neighbours.

New Zealand’s place is firmly in the Pacific and we have continued to broaden our focus on working in partnership with our Pacific neighbours. 

My trip to Papua New Guinea in May to the United States - Pacific Summit gave me the opportunity to strengthen ties with our regional partners, but also to encourage others to play a bigger, and more constructive, part in the region.

There are understandable concerns about increasing strategic competition in the Pacific region, and many of these are concerns we share.

However in my first-hand conversations with Pacific leaders the first topic is always the same – climate change.

Cyclone Gabrielle and the devastation it wrought in New Zealand is a reminder here at home of the increasing volume and intensity of extreme weather events across the Pacific.

Our commitment to provide over half a billion dollars in climate finance in the Pacific region is being rolled out, but our neighbours are asking more of us.

They also ask us to use our voice on the world stage to draw attention to the climate crisis in our region and to use our relationship with countries that are large polluters to increase their efforts to reduce emissions.

That is a commitment my Government will continue to make, both through leading by example at home, while exerting pressure on others to do more internationally.

More broadly, supporting a peaceful and stable wider Indo—Pacific region, including through our important relationships in South and South East Asia, is vital for New Zealand’s security and prosperity.

The Indo-Pacific is home not only to many of our most significant export markets, but also increasing strategic competition and tensions - from the South China Sea, to Taiwan – and fundamental in addressing issues from climate change to transnational crime.

I know the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be travelling to Jakarta next week to represent New Zealand’s interests at important regional meetings, with ASEAN and other partners.

China

Just last weekend I arrived back from China and a very successful trade mission.

China is our most complex relationship.

They are our largest trading partner, the destination of around a quarter of all our exports and a significant source of tourists and students.

It is also a country successive Governments have sought to enhance our people to people and diplomatic relationships with.

On the wall at Fonterra’s Shanghai office is a black and white photo of the first New Zealand trade mission in 1973, shortly after the Kirk Government established diplomatic ties.

Our 50-year history and our world leading FTA – negotiated and signed during the Clark Government - opens dialogue in that regard.

It’s obvious New Zealand and China hold a number of different views.

We don’t share a democratic tradition as we do with other partners like Australia, the UK and the US.

Our differing positions on human rights is an area of disagreement.

And in global affairs we have voiced concerns about China’s more assertive posture on a range of issues.

In this regard we have a choice, and as a Government, we have chosen the path of open and honest engagement.

Reports emerged just before my trip of a robust conversation between our Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and the Chinese Foreign Minister. You will have noticed we didn’t deny that.

Our approach has always been that we are consistent in asserting our interests, we are predictable as we advance our values and we are respectful as we engage in our relationship with China.

A strong, mature and complex relationship means we will have those tough conversations, just as I also raised areas of disagreement with the Chinese leadership when I was in Beijing last week.

But I think it’s better to be talking than not. Dialogue delivers greater security.

New Zealand’s national interests require continued engagement with China, and cooperation where our interests converge. Certainly, our economic interests are significant.

But there are other ways in which China challenges our national interests and in these areas we will disagree.

However, putting up walls and closing doors doesn’t serve us well in the long term and engagement is always preferable to isolation.

Emerging threats

As I mentioned earlier, my work as Prime Minister to further our international links and relationships occurs within a more challenging global context.

As we scan the international horizon, we need to keep our eyes wide open to the emerging issues and threats to New Zealand and our interests.

Cyber actors, some of whom are state-sponsored, are increasingly emboldened.

They are targeting critical infrastructure, government networks and large companies - including in New Zealand – for financial and strategic gain.

The disruptive impacts of malicious cyber activities targeting information systems and telecommunication networks is growing, with real impacts for New Zealanders.

Disinformation is on the rise around the world, and will continue to pose ongoing threats to democracy and social cohesion.

Here in New Zealand, we have experienced how disinformation from international sources can find a niche and amplify divisions and foment unrest.

But as I said at the start, I’m not convinced these emerging threats require an entirely new foreign policy response.

In fact, I believe our independent position, coupled with stronger ties with partners and allies puts us in a strong position to face the future.

A good example is the Christchurch Call.

The Call leveraged our position as an honest broker on the world stage to draw together a coalition of countries, tech companies and civil society to address the issue of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Key tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft and countries such as France were prepared to work with us on the Call because of our global brand as independent honest brokers.

I see this as a role New Zealand can and should play regularly.

Be it on climate alongside our Pacific neighbours.

On fair global trade rules alongside other smaller nations that rely on key multilateral institutions to provide a fair and level playing field.

Or at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court seeking justice for Ukraine.

The stability, certainty and largely bipartisan approach to our foreign policy continues to be our greatest asset in addressing the emerging global threatscape.

Enhancing defence and security capabilities

That said, we can’t be passive, and we need to keep investing in our defence and security capabilities at home.

To that end, the Government will be releasing an interrelated set of strategic policy documents and assessments, spanning across New Zealand’s national security, defence, and foreign policy – including New Zealand’s first National Security Strategy.

Taken together, these represent an important step in how we will protect our national security and advance our national interests in a more contested and difficult world.

This set of documents will also outline where the Government will be focusing its efforts. Including:

  • Investing in a combat-capable defence force and the wider national security system;
  • Tackling emerging issues like disinformation, and undertaking more concerted efforts in areas where threats are growing, like economic security;
  • Building and sustaining a public conversation on national security, by being more upfront about what we are observing as well as listening to New Zealanders, in order to grow and maintain social license for efforts to protect our security;
  • Supporting Pacific resilience, providing development assistance, and continuing work to bolster the security capacity of Pacific nations;
  • Strengthening security cooperation and ties in the broader Indo-Pacific region; and
  • Working to maintain and strengthen the global system of rules and norms that have served New Zealand so well.

Taken together, these represent an important step in how we are protecting our national security and advancing our national interests in a more contested and more difficult world.

They also help us to inform our decision making around ongoing investments in a combat-capable defence force including interoperability of all our assets like people, intelligence, tech, AI, and defence hardware.

It’s important to remember that we are not beginning from a standing start however.

Over the past six years we have invested well over $4 billion in major defence force capability, including the new Poseidon and Hercules aircraft.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque terrorist attacks created an extensive work programme that is strengthening our security and intelligence capabilities.

And our longstanding membership of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing partnership remains a cornerstone of New Zealand’s security

Separately, because we share with those countries bonds of history and fundamental democratic values, we are strengthening our policy dialogue across a range of areas where we share common interests, with New Zealand hosting the annual Five Country Ministerial meeting here in Wellington just a few weeks ago.

Like any close family, we will have slightly differing approaches from time to time.

The AUKUS agreement is a topical example.  

We understand the strategic drivers for AUKUS, and those partners know that New Zealand's nuclear free position is proudly long standing and it's not going to change.  

We will not be part of the AUKUS nuclear submarine arrangement, and the partners in the AUKUS arrangement understand and respect that.

Australia, the US, and the UK all have long histories of cooperation with New Zealand when it comes to defence and security, and we will continue to work together in areas that are consistent with our strategic needs and our values.

Conclusion

Later today I am flying to Brussels to sign the EU FTA, another historic agreement reached by this Government, that unlocks immediate tariff savings of around $100 million a year when it enters into force, more than any past New Zealand FTA including China.

If you thought the UK FTA was big – and it was – then I’m pleased to tell you that the EU FTA provides more value for New Zealand, including tariff savings for our exports around three times those achieved through our great UK FTA outcome.

I then travel to Stockholm and the NATO Summit in Lithuania which New Zealand has been invited to participate in for the second year in a row.

The world is changing, new threats are emerging, but I’m proud I will be there in the middle of it, representing New Zealand and our views and values. 

As I do so, I reflect that this is not new. New Zealand has a long and proud history of working on the world stage in support of international peace, stability and security. 

It was nearly 80 years ago when New Zealand’s then Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, played a significant role during the formation of the United Nations in San Francisco.

50 years ago, Norman Kirk sent the HMNZS Otago to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific, and for nearly 40 years we have been proudly nuclear free.

20 years ago Helen Clark stood firm against the war in Iraq, instead directing New Zealand’s efforts towards reconstruction, peacekeeping and intelligence support.

It is this legacy of principled independence that we must continue to embrace as we combat these new challenges.

New Zealand has a role to play, and a contribution to make in shaping the international environment. The choices we make, how we exert our influence, and how we project our voice, all matter.

It means being neither naive, nor fatalistic about the challenges we face.

It means marshalling all of the tools of statecraft in a concerted, integrated way while strengthening and investing in our capabilities.

And of course, working to strengthen all of our partnerships and relationships, here at home, across the region, and on the global stage.

I believe we’re the best little country in the world. I’m proud of our foreign policy heritage and I’m committed to continuing our legacy on the world stage as a force for good.

Thank you.

Ends