Speech to Diplomatic Corps

Let us begin by acknowledging His Excellency Mr Alfredo Perez Bravo, Ambassador of Mexico and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Ambassadors, and High Commissioners. It is a pleasure to see so many of you here this evening.

Acknowledgement too, to Cabinet Colleagues, Minister of Defence, Honourable Judith Collins, and Minister for Trade, Honourable Todd McClay. 

The Coalition Government welcomes this opportunity, at the outset of our term, to acknowledge the critical role the diplomatic corps play for your countries and for New Zealand. Alongside our network of New Zealand diplomats abroad, the work you do every day sustains and grows the international connections on which New Zealand depends. You are in this sense critical enablers for New Zealand.

When last Minister of Foreign Affairs, a then member of the diplomatic corps took the critical enabler role so to heart that in a bilateral meeting his Vice President asked him who he was working for, his government or ours! 

We’re not suggesting you take things that far, but then again…

The Coalition Government understands the significant commitment it takes to establish diplomatic missions offshore, particularly so for small and developing countries.

The choice to be represented diplomatically in New Zealand is a choice by your respective governments to work with a value-driven, constructive international partner. 

And in addition to your work here, many of you also have accreditations to other Pacific countries. Your presence in our region matters, and we appreciate these efforts.

Tonight’s event provides an opportunity to speak about the values that drive our foreign policy, the troubled international environment, diplomacy’s vital role, and the importance of relationships as we seek to grow our prosperity and strengthen our security. 

The values that drive the Coalition’s foreign policy are:

  • Equality and fairness.
  • Democracy – one person, one vote since 1893, and one person, two votes since 1996.
  • Freedom from fear, and want.
  • Human Rights, as set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration, and;
  • Guardianship for and protection of our environment.

But we hold no illusions about the challenging international conditions. Taking the world “as it is” and having our “eyes wide open” to potential threats has guided New Zealand foreign policy ever since we began charting our own course. 

And in that regard, you will all have observed the constant, and for many of you, perplexing refrains about New Zealand’s “independent foreign policy.” 

We do have an independent foreign policy, but the Coalition Government also believes you have independent foreign policies too, forged through your own national experiences and the cultural expectations that grew out of them.

Differences lie in our geographies, geologies, economies, populations, political systems, histories, and cultures. So, an independent foreign policy means different things to different countries. 

You all conduct on behalf of your respective countries the pursuit of your national interests, as do we, so one hopes that there the matter can rest. We are all equals here.

And on nights like this, when the diplomatic community comes together, we affirm our common bonds and how we need to work together to advance the mutual prosperity and security our countries all seek. 

Turning to the international environment, it’s clouded by heightened strategic tension and heightened levels of disruption and risk. The tragic and complex situation in the Middle East is a particular case in point. As too are the illegal, unjustified invasions and ongoing aggression we are witnessing around the globe.

While these conflicts sit at the vortex of global instability, creating ripples we all experience, you will be well aware they are by no means the sole threats to the rules-based order, including in the Indo-Pacific region. 

New Zealand’s values do not just drive our commitment to the rules-based system. They define the nature of the rules-based order we are working for, and the ways we work with the countries you represent to advance it.

We live by the principle that our shared interests can best be secured through global rules and norms that advance our values. Rules that treat all states – and all individuals – equally and fairly; where our disputes are settled peacefully; and where the playing field is level.

In these complex and acutely challenging times, we recognise more than ever we must collaborate with partners who know us, value us, and trust us. 

We must work with all of you, in different ways and in different contexts, to rebuild the collective benefits of multilateralism: to defend its strengths; to modernise it where reform is needed; and to push for bold solutions. 

We need to do this to protect our interests at home, in the region and on the global stage. We do not underestimate the challenge, but against the troubled backdrop we jointly face, never has diplomacy mattered more.

New Zealand’s strategic policy and posture in the period ahead will need to be match fit for the difficult outlook we face. What should you – representatives of our partners across the globe – expect to see from New Zealand foreign policy in the months and years ahead? 

The answer is more energy, more urgency, and a sharper focus across three inter-connected lines of effort in:

  • Investing in our relationships;
  • Growing our prosperity, and;
  • Strengthening our security.

We identify New Zealand’s international relationships and partnerships as an essential element of growing our prosperity and security. For a country making its way in a more complex and contested world, how we build, sustain, and harness our relationships is integral to how we advance our interests and uphold our values. 

Through our relationships we seek to amplify strengths and influence, and pursue collective solutions to common challenges. Here, we feel the need to do more, and faster.

We will work with all of you in different like-minded coalitions. But there are some of you whose global influence and reach is such that it is felt across every single one of the challenges we face.

Small states tend to be judged by the strength, or even temperature, of their major power relationships.

But that is not how we see these relationships. We judge our relationships with the United States, or the European Union, or China, or India and Japan, or with South America, for example, by what we can achieve together. 

In the Indo-Pacific, we are strongly committed to strengthening regional architecture: shared frameworks, rules and norms, both to maximise opportunities and to manage risks.

Good architecture helps to avoid false choices. New Zealand would rather invest in strengthening the institutions which help to manage conflict, than face false choices between bilateral relationships.

You should expect to see New Zealand continue to strengthen its Pacific partnerships, by listening, and by working with Pacific countries to bolster their security and resilience, particularly in terms of climate impacts.

We will vigorously refresh our engagement with our traditional likeminded partners: Australia, our closest friend; the United States; Canada; and the United Kingdom, with a focus on how we advance shared interests and address strategic challenges.

We will increase our focus, too, on important relationships across North Asia, South Asia including India, and Southeast Asia. 

And we will continue to support and defend an international rules-based system that reflects our values and supports our interests. 

We will also target multilateral engagement on key global and transboundary issues, and pursue opportunities presented by new, emerging ‘minilateral’ groupings.

New Zealand is an export-driven country long committed to dismantling trade barriers. The strength of our economy is directly related to the success of our exporters, to our attractiveness as a destination for investors, and for the flow of innovation and ideas.

Yet current trends in global trade are concerning. Enthusiasm for trade liberalisation is weakening. “Just in time” efficiency is giving way to “just-in-case” caution. We need to navigate New Zealand’s interests in this new reality as we build and bolster our economic security. We intend on doing so with greater focus, urgency and energy.

We will support our exporters, importers, investors, supply chains and overall economy to be better positioned and more resilient to headwinds and shocks.

We will continue to tackle trade barriers, and increase export value by energetically pursuing new trade initiatives and maximising current agreements through trade missions and vigorous trade diplomacy.

And we will attract to New Zealand the investment capital, global talent and expertise required to help lift our productivity, the key to unlocking our economic potential, and build our international connections.

The provision of security for its people is the first duty of the nation-state.  It is the foundation stone for our overall prosperity and well-being at home. 

New Zealand’s approach to national security will be deliberate, focused on being positioned to act early and prevent threats and challenges, wherever possible. And focused on building resilience and readiness when prevention is not possible.

We know that we will need to have greater presence, and we will need to bolster sovereign capabilities that enable us to act in a more challenging geo-strategic environment. And we are focused as a priority on acquiring the resources necessary to bolster those capabilities. 

We intend to re-invigorate our defence and security engagement, including with the United States and our Five Eyes partners, as well as with other key security partners in the region and beyond.

We will lift our strategic presence and engagement, particularly in the Pacific, but also the wider Indo-Pacific region.

And we will ensure we are actively engaged in shaping the rules and norms that address the challenges, and opportunities, of new and emerging technologies.

Let’s finish by reaffirming New Zealand’s desire to work with you, all of you, to advance our shared interests. 

In our complex world, the space has shrunk between global events and their consequences for any individual nation’s prosperity and security. There is no “opt out” from the strategic trends we all face, regionally or globally.

But, like all nations, New Zealand has influence and choices. In partnering with New Zealand, you can expect a principled and engaged country. And one determined to act with energy and urgency, working alongside others to help strengthen a regional and global environment in which all countries can participate and prosper.

Thank you.