Responsibilities, Challenges, and Values: The New Zealand Defence Perspective - Speech to the PLA National Defence University, People’s Republic of China

  • Hon Ron Mark

Tuhia ki te rangi                               

Tuhia ki te whenua                           

Tuhia ki te ngakau                            

O nga tangata                                  

Ko te mea nui                                    

Ko te aroha                                                 

Tihei (wa) Mauri Ora!                                                   

E nga tangata whenua                               

Tena koutou                                     

E te iwi o te Moana nui a Kiwa                           

Tena koutou                                     

Apiti hono, tatai hono                       

Ratou kua wehe atu kit e po            

Apiti hono, tatai hono                       

Tatou e tu ana ki te ao                        

Greetings distinguished officers and university staff, ladies and gentlemen.

Firstly, thank you to our hosts – we appreciate your hospitality.  It is an honour to speak to the next generation of leaders of the People’s Liberation Army. 

This is an important opportunity for us, as strategic partners, to deepen our mutual understanding, our relationship, and our cooperation. 

So, to all the officers and research staff convened here today, thank you for listening, and I look forward to our discussions to follow. 

Today, I’d like to share with you the New Zealand perspective on Defence and our Defence priorities – specifically, the responsibilities we have, the security challenges we see, and how our values guide us. 


New Zealand is a country of 4.8 million people.  We’re proud of our independent foreign policy, and we’re proud that we stand up for our values. 

Standing up for our values has led to many milestones for our small nation, from being the first country where women achieved the vote, to this Government’s announcement just weeks ago of our wellbeing budget

Through culture, geography and demographics, New Zealand is a Pacific nation.  And we are located at the doorstep of Antarctica. 

Our maritime search and rescue area of responsibility reflects this expansive range, with bounds that stretch from the South Pole nearly to the Equator.  It covers one-eleventh of the globe

So though we are a small nation, we have great responsibilities. 

These responsibilities extend not only from the ice to the tropics, but also across a diverse range of missions within our own country, including supporting the protection of our biodiversity and biosecurity.    

As a trading nation that values working multilaterally, our responsibilities also extend around the world. New Zealand’s interests are truly global. 

The Strategic Defence Policy Statement, which I launched one year ago, highlights that we think broadly about security and the responsibilities that we have.  In answering these calls, New Zealand Defence provides value across our communities, our nation, and the world. 

Defence’s contributions at the community level had not been recognised in past statements of our defence policy.  But Defence’s contributions to the community are significant, from responses to natural disasters within New Zealand to our stewardship of large areas of land throughout the country.

Likewise, the good work that New Zealand Defence does through youth development programmes had been under recognised.  I clearly couldn’t stand for this, as I am a beneficiary of the value that Defence can bring to a young person’s life.  It was early intervention in my own youth that led me to this path to stand before you today, representing my nation. 

So I can personally attest that the value that Defence brings to communities – Defence makes real differences in real lives. 

Defence also provides value to the nation, frequently supporting other government agencies’ in their missions, from the work of the Department of Conservation on offshore islands to supporting Police in explosive ordnance disposal. We maintain a level of capability to detect, deter and counter a range of threats to
New Zealand. 

Moving from the nation to our neighbourhood, the Policy Statement added a new responsibility for the Defence Force – we raised the priority placed on our Defence Force’s ability to operate in the Pacific to the same level as New Zealand’s own territory, the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

New Zealand’s own prosperity and security are intrinsically linked to those of the Pacific. This lift in Defence priority comes in the context of our Government’s Pacific Reset.

The Reset is a vision for working with our Pacific neighbours as equal partners in addressing the increasingly complex and challenging issues in our region, including the impacts of climate change.

In many respects, the Pacific region is where New Zealand matters more and can have a more positive impact.

New Zealanders also have a built-in sense of responsibility around always doing our part.  This applies to New Zealand Defence’s contributions to the rules-based order, both in the Pacific and further afield. 

This also applies to our relationships, to being a good partner.  This includes being a good partner to China.

China is a key strategic partner for New Zealand.  Since diplomatic relations between our two countries began in 1972, the bilateral relationship has grown to become one of New Zealand’s most valuable and important.

We have developed a constructive defence relationship based on openness and respect. And our relationship continues to grow from strength to strength.

For example, our two countries have recently signed a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement.  Not only does this continue to enhance our logistics co-operation, but it will support peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations – all of which contribute to United Nations efforts towards international peace.

Whether a small country, or one of the biggest in the world, we rely on the men and women of our defence forces to partner together in the spirit of cooperation towards a common purpose of peace.

Through openness and respect, we can work together responsibly for our shared security. 


In the context of the great responsibilities for our small nation, we see challenges. 

Across geography and domains, challenges once conceived of as ‘future trends’ have become present realities. 

For New Zealand, our stake in the international rules-based order is fundamental and concrete.  The order enables us to pursue prosperity and an independent foreign policy. 

New Zealand’s security depends on the maintenance of this order.  It is the foundation of our security. 

This order has broadly led to the peaceful coexistence and cooperation of states—large and small—for nearly 75 years.  It has given all states an equal seat at the table. 

The laws, norms, and institutions of a healthy order preserve stability and safeguard against conflict and uncertainty. 

New Zealand and China, together with many other countries in our region and around the world, have benefited from the rules-based order.  We have also made significant contributions to it. 

It’s important that we continue to look for opportunities to work together in a practical way. Peacekeeping operations, counter-piracy efforts, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are areas where we have common interests.

South Sudan is one such example of where both our countries have contributed to UN peacekeeping missions.

We acknowledge China’s positive contributions to peacekeeping deployments, including in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. We also recognise China’s commitment to deployments that support the international rules-based order.

 China is the second biggest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget, and with over 2500 peacekeepers in the field, it is by far the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the Permanent Five, and the 10th largest contributor in total.

I also want to recognise the efforts of these peacekeepers, often very far from home, and working in increasingly difficult conditions to uphold international peace. I was saddened to hear of the loss of Chinese lives in undertaking these efforts to support peace and assist in restoring the rule of law. I offer my deepest sympathies to the Chinese people, as well as gratitude for their strong commitment to reducing conflicts abroad.

The international rules-based order has many important aspects, and I’ll briefly mention two of particular value. 

One is transparency, and this includes transparency in defence policies and actions.  This is one key reason that New Zealand released the Strategic Defence Policy Statement, including its frank assessment that the international rules-based under is eroding in ways that challenge our security. 

By communicating our views openly through this public document, our international partners can clearly see what we stand for, and where we are prepared to take action. If we are all transparent in our motivations, we reduce the risk of misunderstandings and miscalculations. 

Another critical aspect of the order is security architecture, which enables collective action and helps make it effective through a common set of rules.  

In our region, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus is vital to promoting regional resilience, and has become increasingly important in the last nine years since its founding. 

To maintain relevance of security architecture, we must continuously adjust and adapt to new challenges, working together to ensure our security architecture remains fit for purpose – and energised.  I believe this is an interest that we share and on which we can cooperate.  It is a way we can work together to contribute to the international rules-based order. 

One of the forces we see pressuring the order is the compounding effects of “complex disrupters” – transnational threats that are forces for disorder.  These include cyber threats, transnational organised crime, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism, among others. 

A critical complex disrupter – the impact of which we already see and which will only get worse – is climate change

For us in New Zealand and in the Pacific, climate change is not simply a feature of the strategic environment.  Climate change in the Pacific will be a driver of New Zealand Defence Force operations. Its many varied manifestations are affecting communities today, and we do see security implications. 

We commend China’s positive efforts in tackling climate change. In April, our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and Chinese Premier, Le Keqiang, released a joint statement on climate change. It committed our two countries towards working together more to address the impacts of climate change. It is important that we work together to achieve green, low-carbon and resilient societies.  As part of our Defence cooperation, we would be pleased to have further discussions on the security impacts of climate change.  

In December, I released a new Defence Assessment, titled The Climate Crisis: Defence readiness and responsibilities. It reinforces New Zealand’s view that climate change – including through its intersection with issues like food and water security – is one of the greatest security challenges of our time.   

This is also the view of our Pacific partners. In the 2018 Boe Declaration, Pacific leaders reaffirmed that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the people of the Pacific. 

I was pleased that recently, at the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting, regional defence leaders unanimously supported recommendations for future work on defence, security, and climate change. 

Our region is experiencing intense environmental impacts from climate change such as coral bleaching, decreasing fish stocks and increased soil salinisation – all have flow-on economic, cultural and social consequences. The risk of concurrent and more extreme weather events is increasing.

Over time there will be an increased requirement for our Defence and other security forces to respond with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, more search and rescue missions, and – given the compounding effects of a series of complex disrupters – potentially stability operations.

When the effects of climate change intersect with a complex array of environmental and social issues, they can be significant contributors to both low-level and more violent conflict. This can include violence between communities, disputes over land and resource competition. 

The importance of managing the social impacts of climate change – from loss of livelihood and cultural identity, to climate-induced migration – cannot be understated. 

When not well managed, these social impacts of climate change have the potential to heighten security concerns in our region and further afield.

Climate change is a challenge that we as Defence practitioners need to be ready for. In Defence organisations, we are practical planners, in tune with our environment, as we sail the seas, fly through the atmosphere, and dig and live in foxholes in the ground—something I have personal experience with. 

New Zealand Defence’s assessment on climate change has put us on a path to elevate and expand some of the good work that’s already underway, from our camps and bases to the ways we train. Our recently announced Defence Capability Plan delivers on our climate change priorities. 

Guided by our values

Defence’s commitment to be ready to respond to events in the Pacific – with the same level dedication we would bring to a response in our own country –  is grounded in our Pacific identity and our values, including the importance we place on community and environmental wellbeing. 

New Zealand is a nation guided by its values, including equality, peacefulness, personal freedom, and respect for human rights. 

As our Deputy Prime Minister recently said in Stockholm, New Zealanders “are instinctive and active multilateralists who are unafraid to stand up for what we believe in.”  This includes trade, the environment, disarmament, and security and adherence to the international rules-based system. 

Earlier I mentioned my Government’s recently unveiled wellbeing budget as part of our values-driven approach.  The Defence Force is a vital part of maintaining the wellbeing of New Zealanders, both in providing security and in the range of support we provide across the community, our nation, and the world. 

The Strategic Defence Policy Statement demonstrates how our national emphasis on values flows through to our approach to Defence.  This document features a set of new, key principles, to describe Government’s fundamental expectation for the Defence Force.  They also serve as enduring guidance for a range of decisions, from deployment to procurement. 

These principles include that Defence is combat capable, flexible and ready to do what the Government asks, and that Defence personnel are highly trained professionals.  We also underscore that Defence should operate in ways that maintain public trust and confidence. 

Importantly, these principles also feature that Defence embodies and promotes New Zealand’s values, in its actions both domestically and offshore. 

As a representative of New Zealand and an expression our independent foreign policy, Defence must act to promote New Zealand as a good international citizen, supporting the rules-based order and operating in accordance with law, including the Law of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law.

Another of these principles is that Defence is a credible and trusted international partner.  This is an absolute bedrock of how we engage with the world.  We strive to meet commitments and add value to the span of our Defence relationships, from the Pacific to NATO to China. 

And it’s clear that our bilateral Defence relationship has continued to build on strengths, gained from real-world practical cooperation, from peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, where the PLA provided force protection to the New Zealand Defence Force, to our mutual efforts to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. 

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief is another key area where we want to cooperate further with China. Our two countries partnered in the South Pacific through Exercise Tropic Twilight in Vanuatu.  Our engineers together constructed three health facilities on the island of Efate. It’s an excellent example of donor partners working together to the benefit of the people of Vanuatu.

It is important to us to be a good partner—to listen and not dictate, to understand the needs of our partners, and to keep those needs at the centre of our engagement, all the while considering imperatives for cooperation in the context of our values.  We value and respect the perspectives of our partners, as well as their diverse identities. 

We believe people-to-people ties are at the heart of partnership.  When we meet and we get to know each other personally, we realise that we are all driven by the same motivations for peace, security, and stability. 

In recognition of the significance we place on people-to-people ties and community wellbeing, I want to share with you a very important Maori proverb.  In fact, if you remember one thing from today, then I hope it will be this. 

And I hope you will carry it with you in your efforts to promote security, wherever they may take you across your community, your nation, and around the world. 

A famous chief and leader of my Ngati Porou tribe, Sir Apirana Ngata, once said:

He aha te mea nui o te ao

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world?

It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore just over a month ago, I put a series of challenges to regional leaders.  I asked all states with interests in security of the region:

  • To resolve to come together collectively to tackle global challenges, including climate change;
  • To be clear and transparent on motivations;
  • To maintain agile and contemporary security architecture; and
  • To forge genuine understanding and people-to-people links.

I’ve talked about the importance of each of these areas today.  I consider all of these challenges to be pressing issues for our time, and I hope as future leaders, you will take them to heart.   


Once again, I would like to thank my generous hosts here today, the People’s Liberation Army.

The New Zealand – China relationship is strong, and we are here today as true strategic partners who value each other and who listen to each other’s perspectives. 

I am grateful to you today for hearing New Zealand’s perspective. 

We all want to live in a safe and secure world, and I’m proud to work with you on our shared commitment to peace and security. 

No reira

Tena koutou 

Tena koutou 

Tena tatou katoa