Speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Pacific Futures: Connections, Identity and Security

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Foreign Affairs

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Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here, and to have the honour of opening this important conference on behalf of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

Let us take the opportunity to acknowledge all the people who have helped make today possible, including our special guests from the Pacific:

The Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Afioga Fiame [Fee-ah-may] Naomi Mata’afa.

My counterpart for Vanuatu, The Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Honourable Ralph Regenvanu.

And, Deputy Director-General for the Pacific Community, Dr Audrey Aumua.

New Zealand is a Pacific country, linked by history, culture, politics, and demographics. As part of the Pacific family, New Zealand is deeply conscious that our identity, our national security and our prosperity are inextricably linked. We have, in a very genuine sense, a shared Pacific destiny.

New Zealand also has a shared passion with the Pacific around sport and in particular rugby, and on the eve of the quarterfinals of the Rugby World cup I look forward to our Pacific family getting in behind the All Blacks for tomorrow’s clash with Ireland.

As you all know, the Pacific landscape is characterised by an increasingly complex environmental, economic and human development challenges.

You all will be deeply focused on these issues which include:

  •   Climate change impacts on the people of the region, as coasts erode, sea levels rise, and fish stocks move.
  •   Economic resilience and distance to market challenges.
  •   Human development, particularly health and education for remote populations, are key areas where government services in the Pacific are often stretched.
  •  Transnational crime, including drug trafficking, cyber-crime and the activities of gangs and criminal deportees is putting pressure on law enforcement and border security agencies in the region.

At the same time, the strategic landscape continues to shift. Global interest in the Pacific is rising, with increased engagement and investment from both long-term and new partners.

This can present both opportunity and risk. 

Pacific Island Leaders, at the 50th Forum meeting in Tuvalu in August, noted that alongside the impact of climate change - increasing strategic competition was exacerbating the region’s vulnerabilities. Leaders highlighted the importance of maintaining regional solidarity in the face of intensified political engagement.

As this global interest has increased, New Zealand’s emphasis has been on encouraging engagement in the region that aligns with and supports Pacific priorities and values, and contributes to the security, prosperity and sovereignty of the region and its people.

But as a region, the Pacific is not a passive actor.

A new generation of Pacific leaders are emerging, who are seeking new ways to project a Pacific voice on the regional and international stage, and help advance collective solutions to shared challenges.

And this new generation of leaders are privileged to be able to follow in the footsteps of the late Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pōhiva. He was both a colleague and a friend and a Pacific leader who championed democracy and good governance across the Pacific.

As well as individual leadership, the regional architecture of the Pacific Islands Forum provides a critical mechanism for the regions leaders to determine how to respond collectively to the regions shared challenges.

At the 50th Forum meeting in Tuvalu in August, Forum leaders discussed the threat of climate change and resolved, by consensus, to take urgent action. The Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now is the strongest collective statement the Pacific Islands Forum has ever issued on climate change.

Achieving this will require a collective commitment, and New Zealand will continue to be front and centre of this effort. Over the past 18 months, through the Pacific Reset, the Government has been lifting its ambition and investment in our region, with a significant shift in both how we engage in the region, as well as what we do.

At the centre of this is building deeper, more mature relationships with our many partners in the region. From the outset, we have been committed to a set of core principles:

  • Listening, and demonstrating a depth of understanding
  • Exhibiting friendship
  • Striving for solutions that deliver mutual benefit
  • Achieving collective ambition; and
  • Ensuring our engagement is sustainable

After 18 months, it is important to reflect on what has been achieved.

We are moving away from the donor-recipient dynamics of the past, and building more mature relationships with Pacific Island countries. The message that New Zealand is a partner, and not just a donor, has resonated in the region and enabled frank conversations about shared policy priorities and challenges.

The Government has lifted its leadership diplomacy effort, with an increase in high-level engagement, both in terms of travel into the region, and hosting Pacific Leaders and Ministers here in New Zealand.

New Zealand agencies are focused on greater coherence on Pacific issues across all parts of the Government, recognising the close connection between foreign and domestic policy in our Pacific engagement. 

Through our Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme every year we support over 12,850 people from the Pacific to work in New Zealand which translates into $40 million dollars’ worth of remittances.

We are lifting our focus on and investment in Pacific security issues, and advancing new initiatives that support Pacific island countries on key security priorities, including security sector leadership  capability; tackling transnational crime; Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing; border management and security; and cyber security.

The Government has ensured that the Reset is underpinned by substantive, new resources.

An additional $842 million over five years in Budgets 2018 and 2019 has been allocated to the New Zealand aid budget, the majority of which is being directed towards the Pacific. Official development assistance as a proportion of Gross National Income (GNI) has been sustained at 0.28 percent of GNI.

Through this development assistance, New Zealand is doing more on issues that matter to the region, including climate change; economic resilience; health and education; governance; gender; human rights, and youth. 

A high priority is taking practical action that will help Pacific countries adapt to climate change and build resilience.

To deliver on New Zealand’s $300 million global commitment to climate change-related development assistance, $150 million has been dedicated to a Pacific programme to bolster New Zealand’s climate change support in the region, focused on initiatives such as: water security; climate hazard mapping; combatting invasive species that threaten food security; and improving access to international climate finance.

We are addressing pressing human development issues with new initiatives on distance and flexible learning; tackling non-communicable diseases; and on improving access to essential pharmaceuticals.

We have also launched initiatives to improve internet connectivity, economic governance, and sustainable management of Pacific Island countries’ fisheries and marine resources.

New Zealand has also focused on greater coordination and engagement with key external partners engaged in the Pacific, and is encouraging increased engagement in support of the Pacific’s own priorities and objectives.  This includes other countries active in the region, as well as key multilateral organisations and entities.

Australia continues to be a critical partner for New Zealand in the Pacific, and close coordination across the breadth of our respective efforts in the region is a significant aspect of engagement between Wellington and Canberra.

New Zealand welcomes the United Kingdom’s decision to establish three new high commissions in the region.  We have partnered with the governments of Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United States and Japan on a major new electrification programme to lift access to electricity in PNG. With Japan, we are building the Pacific Climate Change Centre in Apia. New Zealand and the EU are working together, along with France and Australia, to tackle the interconnected challenges of biodiversity and climate change.

Being able to listen to and respond to our Pacific partners’ priorities means having a greater presence in the region. The Government has boosted New Zealand’s Pacific-focused diplomatic footprint, with 10 new diplomatic and development roles in the Pacific, and four new Pacific-focused roles in key capitals outside the region.

But there is much more to be done, and we must also look ahead.  The Government has been clear that the next step is ensuring the heightened tempo of effort that began as the Pacific Reset is embedded as the “new normal” for New Zealand’s Pacific engagement.

This conference has brought together experts from across the region to consider Pacific connections, identity and security.  Over the rest of the day you will be able discuss – and even more importantly – present new thinking on the future of the region.

As the region’s thinkers, analysts and experts, we are inviting you to bring your ideas and perspectives to the table to help shape the trajectory of New Zealand’s Pacific engagement.

Thank you.