Strategic Security speech, Tokyo

Minasan, konnichiwa, kia ora and good afternoon everyone. Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today and thank you to our friends at the Institute for International Socio-Economic Studies and NEC for making this event possible today.

It gives me great pleasure to be here today, speaking with you all, during my first official visit to Japan as New Zealand Prime Minister.

I have had the good fortune to visit Japan many times in my previous business roles at Unilever and as the former chief executive of Air New Zealand. In all my trips I have been struck by the connections and the common vision that unite our two countries.

Whether in our ambition to innovate and develop future technologies, as with the work here at NEC demonstrates.

Or in our desire to grow our international trade connections and support business success.

Or in our joint commitment to the rules-based international order and securing a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Indo Pacific.

These are the issues that I will talk to you about today.

Since coming to power my message to New Zealand and to the world has been one of ambition: to grow the New Zealand economy; to make New Zealand an export powerhouse. As our economy grows, we improve the lives of ordinary Kiwis and have more fiscal headroom to fund the types of public services Kiwis want.

But - like all governments - our strategic ambition, and the decisions we make, must be informed by the reality and the geopolitical contours we have to navigate.

Prosperity is only possible with security.

And it is clear that the global strategic environment that New Zealand and Japan occupy is undergoing significant change. Many of the assumptions of global and regional affairs that have underpinned our successes are coming under real and sustained pressure.

In this context, partners and friends are more important than ever.

And on this, let me stress that despite the distance between us – joined together, but also separated by the vast blue continent that is the world’s largest ocean – New Zealand and Japan are united in our ambition for advancing and protecting our essential economic and security interests.

We are also bound together through our people and societies, through indigenous connections, shared history, business, and through diplomacy.

And there is our common love for rugby. It was actually a New Zealand Universities rugby tour of Japan in 1936 that first helped raise awareness of New Zealand in Japan.

Fast forward to today. Japan’s Brave Blossoms are the darling of the rugby world.

But most importantly, Japan and New Zealand come together to support each other in our hours of need. Our positions on the Pacific’s ‘ring of fire’ give us a very literal sense of the region’s shifting ground.

When my birth city, Christchurch, was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2011, with 28 Japanese citizens tragically losing their lives, Japan was one of the first countries to come to our assistance. We reciprocated in kind only a few weeks later when Tōhoku was struck by a severe earthquake and tsunami. Indeed, I visited and helped with the clean-up, together with members of my Air New Zealand team.

We also share a commonality of parliamentary and government institutions, founded on democratic values and a commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights, transparency, and the freedom of speech.

So, I speak to you today to emphasise a simple point. That New Zealand and Japan are natural partners, and we stand side by side as the ground under our feet continues – metaphorically, and often literally – to shift.

Our common values and ideals – and the existing rules-based international order that protects them – have provided both New Zealand and Japan long periods of peace and stability.

Indeed, that stability has been a key enabler of our prosperity, as it has provided businesses the certainty they need to make long term decisions.

International rules and multilateral organisations have provided a foundation for all global voices, large and small, to be heard and treated fairly. And it supports what we hold dear – sovereignty, free and open markets, democracy, and human rights.

But this order is facing challenges. New geostrategic realities have made our region more complicated, more chaotic, and more challenging to navigate. We can no longer take for granted the ability of the rules-based international order to deliver progress, safeguard our ambition, or protect our interests.

And in this context, I will be clear. New Zealand will be active and engaged, working alongside Japan and other partners and friends, to use our agency, influence, and role in the world to contribute to and shape global and regional security.

We cannot afford not to.

Recently we have seen tensions boil over into conflict, and the international rules we rely on put under increasing pressure, or blatantly disregarded. Single states have been willing to make unilateral changes, using power and force to achieve their ends.

Take events in Europe, which is tragically experiencing its third year of untold suffering and war. Russia’s actions go to the heart of the rules-based international order - namely territorial integrity and the right to be free from aggression.

In response, New Zealand, like Japan, has enacted strong sanctions against Russia and has been steadfast in our support for Ukraine, providing military and non-military support to help defend itself against Russia’s illegal invasion. Even so, the economic pain borne by Europeans as Russia’s war disrupted fuel and food markets, reminds us there can be no prosperity without security.

In this region, North Korea’s emerging nuclear capability – ignoring international law and UN sanctions – looms large as a further direct attack on the rules-based order. And Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang today underlines the interconnection between what happens in Europe, and stability in our region.

Which is why, yesterday, I was pleased to announce that New Zealand will be sending further defence assets to Japan later this year to conduct North Korea sanctions monitoring.

Elsewhere, it is clear that a serious escalation in the Taiwan Strait, or in the East China Sea, would have profound consequences for New Zealand and Japan, our region, and for the world.

Economic ties are also increasingly fragile.

New Zealand, like many others, was hard hit by supply chain disruption during COVID. Exporters and importers struggled to get cargo in and out of New Zealand by sea and air. Delays drove up costs and disrupted supply and production.

Here, Japan and New Zealand also have a lot in common. As island trading nations, our success has come from our connectedness, from the rule of law, the freedom of navigation, and from open trade flows allowing strong economic ties.

This is why, after the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, we sent personnel to multinational operations there – continuing our history of defending freedom of navigation.

Closer to home, in Asia, the New Zealand Defence Force has a regular programme of engagements, exercises and operations, with a particular focus on supporting maritime security.

The reasons for this are simple. Even as the world becomes ever more complex and contested, we cannot just be an observer. Trade flows drive our growth, support our prosperity, and enable the necessary investment in our security.

Japan is central to this effort. We have long-standing and strong trading connections, and we are building on this with new and exciting cooperation in the areas of renewable energy, space, and science and innovation. Japan is an important source of high-quality investment in New Zealand, in areas such as forestry, fisheries and energy.

Alongside these bilateral efforts we need regional architecture that promotes stability and prosperity through free and rules-based trade and resilient supply chains.

We are committed to working with Japan to ensure that CPTPP remains the benchmark for high trade standards.

Looking back for a moment, I want to acknowledge Japan’s important role when the US withdrew from the original TPP in 2017. It was your leadership – and in particular, that of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo – that rescued the agreement, and CTPPP was formed.

Looking forward, we will work together to expand CPTPP to economies that can adhere to its high standards so that the agreement continues to deliver for our businesses.

Working with the US and other regional partners through the Indo Pacific Economic Framework or IPEF, New Zealand and Japan are collaborating to make our supply chains more resilient. We also welcome Japan’s leadership on economic security, whether through the G7, the OECD, or other fora.

We are working together on how we build resilience and mitigate the impact of climate change in a sector important to us both – agriculture. Through the Global Research Alliance, we are collectively pooling our scientific and technical expertise to find sustainable global food solutions for now and the future.

We are natural partners for each other in our energy transitions.

My government recently outlined a new vision for New Zealand’s minerals future – one that would increase our contribution to global mineral supply chains, including most importantly minerals important to key clean energy technologies.

But we are a nation that exports our know-how - we have expertise in green hydrogen, geothermal technologies, and solar.

To take one example: Japanese companies Obayashi and Mitsui are partnering with New Zealand organisations to produce green hydrogen. Obayashi’s partnership with Māori-run Tuaropaki Trust now produces New Zealand’s first green hydrogen, using geothermal energy to generate the electricity.

Finally, I want to talk about Japan and New Zealand’s shared goal to help build resilience in the Pacific Islands region – the countries running from Papua New Guinea in the west to the Cook Islands in the east.

As shorelines erode, and extreme weather events intensify, livelihoods and resilience are impacted. Vulnerable states find it harder to navigate the swirling and contested times.

This is why we are bringing renewed effort to the Pacific Islands – to help Pacific Island partners to address their own priorities, as set out in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.  It is why 60 per cent of New Zealand’s development assistance goes to the region.

And it is why New Zealand is working alongside Japan and other close partners on improving infrastructure, connectivity and resilience in the Pacific Islands. Including at the upcoming Japan Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting, or PALM, in July.

Working together is key. That is why my visit this week is so important.

When I took up this role as Prime Minister, I was clear that New Zealand needed a foreign policy reset. We are investing more in relationships with our longstanding partners – partners like Japan. We are also growing our relationships with South East Asian countries and India.

Our cooperation with Japan to advance peace and stability in the region, to make active contributions to global governance, to protect the freedom of navigation, multilateralism, and to building strong trade linkages, must continue.

In fact, I am ambitious to take it even further.

I want us to exchange strategic perspectives more. I want us to do more together on defence, including more bilateral and plurilateral exercises.

We are working with the Government of Japan to ensure we have the architecture in place to underpin our increasing cooperation. So that we can share information easily and quickly, building trust. So that we can support joint activities between NZ Defence and Self-Defense Forces.

Another example is the port visits the New Zealand Navy will make to Japan in August and September.

I also want us to work together more with others, in multilateral or minilateral settings. To take one example - next month, I look forward to meeting the leaders of Japan, Australia and South Korea in the format of the “Indo Pacific Four”, to discuss regional security issues.

We have also been watching closely the key strategic role that Japan has been playing in the region, through your membership of the Quad, your closer engagement with the Republic of Korea, and your strengthened relationships with the United States and in trilateral partnerships with the Philippines.

Distinguished guests, this brings me to the end of my remarks.

Security, economics, and trade cannot be tackled in silos. We cannot sit in a board room and think that the strategic environment doesn’t affect us – and we cannot sit in a government and think we can separate our security policy from our trade policy and from our climate policy.

New Zealand and Japan both have a history of contributing to peace and stability in our region and globally and working to strengthen the existing rules-based international order. This provides a strong foundation on which to build further cooperation and to do more together.

Tonight, I will have a summit meeting with Prime Minister Kishida.

This is what we’ll be discussing. New Zealand and Japan are partners – we are Strategic Cooperative Partners – and in our current world, we need to work together more than ever.

Thank you, ngā mihi nui, and arigatou gozaimashita.