Why the Pacific way matters for regional security

Foreign Affairs

I want to set out – Aotearoa NZs Independent Foreign Policy and Why the Pacific Matters for Regional Security. Indeed much of the emphasis in foreign policy has been the impact of Russia’s unlawful aggression in Ukraine, tensions in the Indo-Pacific, North Korea’s provocations, internal conflict in Sudan alongside ongoing unrest across other parts of the world, increasing economic pressures and the real impacts of global warming. We are indeed living in complex times with greater geostrategic tensions.

It is incumbent on New Zealand to insert its independent foreign policy stance in a manner that aligns to the values and interests we believe safeguard our sense of peace, stability, and inclusive economic prosperity.

But first some context against the backdrop of earlier foreign policy speeches I have delivered.

Upon becoming foreign minister, I stated that including an indigenous perspective in our foreign policy would enhance and add depth to our diplomatic toolkit – and I believe it has.

An Indigenous Lens Strengthens the Diplomatic Toolkit

To illustrate this point, as I have travelled around the world there is so much to share about the Māori indigenous perspective. Whether it be with the ASEANs, Europeans, North Americans, Middle East or Latin American friends and partners. Culture, connection, collaboration and commerce can be easily amplified through the indigenous approach to deepen our existing relationships.

And we have tried to ensure that we act in a manner to advance indigenous perspectives. This is evidenced by our approach to including an indigenous segment to our hosting of APEC and the open plurilateral IPETCA (Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement), including indigenous chapters in the recently signed UK and EU free trade agreements and engaging in indigenous collaboration agreements to name a few.

Our indigenous experience and the Māori worldview (while not the sole exemplar) can offer perspectives on truth and reconciliation, the importance of economic inclusion, educational opportunity, women andyouth development, models of self-determination, culture and language revitalisation.

This has been met with deep interest and a willingness to share experience with likeminded nation states and indigenous peoples.

Our Relationship with China and the International Rule of Law

In a previous “Taniwha and the Dragon” speech I set out NZs approach to our relationship with China.

China is a significant trade and economic partner. During my recent visit I expressed that the relationship has matured beyond that of “firsts’ where trade and economics were primary considerations. Now we express our relationship in how we view the international rule of law, the UN Charter, human rights and security matters alongside our P2P links and cultural connections that have formed over a number of years.

I make the point that the eco-system for the Taniwha to survive and thrive is somewhat different to the dragon – we live in Te Moana nui a Kiwa, the vast blue continent, we are a small nation by comparison and we remain steadfast in protecting our environment, our peaceful way of life and the conditions required for our advancement.

We have a mature relationship with China underscored by our willingness to continue to engage on the matters where we find common ground and those that are difficult and challenging. Nonetheless as we defend the international rules, norms and standards that we rely on for peaceful co-existence and shared prosperity we express our view if these norms are ignored.

We have stayed the course in our approach with China. Being predictable, consistent and respectful does not mean we cannot and should not speak our mind. In fact it compels our small nation to use our voice, with conviction, when our interests and values are confronted. This is a feature of what we mean by independence in foreign policy.

Indeed it is a country agnostic approach to the extent that we would take the same stance if confronted with actions of any state that did not align with the international rules and norms and our interests.

The enduring elements of NZs independence include four key pou;

Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

Our sovereign identity emanates from Te Tiriti o Waitangi/ The Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 and remains a cornerstone of our constitutional arrangements. It is the foundation of who we are and locates our nation to the Pacific with long-standing links to the commonwealth and an evolving sense of national identity.

In these complex times where strategic rivalry in our region could have significant impacts, the assertion of our interests mean investing in and maintaining effective sovereign capabilities. Whether that is our domestic resilience, diplomacy, development assistance, or security and defence interests.

These capabilities are the tools of statecraft that provide governments with options, and the means to act on its choices - at home, in the region and in the wider international environment. How we deploy our statecraft is a matter of how we assess the impact of competing tensions against the backdrop of our primary interests.

In the shifting international outlook, the pursuit of our enduring prosperity cannot be separated from our broader economic and national security interests.

New Zealand exporters are heavily reliant on a handful of markets; market concentration carries risk. Strengthening our long-term resilience means pursuing opportunities while also diversifying our export markets and asserting our sovereign values.

Our approach to trade is more than transacting goods - it is underpinned by our Trade for All Agenda. This ensures the benefits of trade are felt in all parts of our country, including amongst women, Māori and the SME sector.

The EU and UK agreements have innovative chapters that reflect what we value, evidenced by the most significant chapters on climate change in our trading history. This sets a standard for future agreements and we will continue to innovate trade agreements in this way.

Our Respect for the International Rule of Law and architecture

As a founding member of the United Nations we have long-held the view that maintaining peace and stability is best achieved through upholding the UN Charter, the International Rule of Law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and fair trade under the World Trade Organisation.

International and regional architecture to support those rights and freedoms which continue to support multilateral efforts are so important for a country the size of ours.

We add our voice to others that align to what we value. It is no surprise, given the history in our region that NZs support of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1968 is a cornerstone of our independent stance alongside ongoing advocacy for disarmament and a safe and secure, nuclear free Pacific.

There are significant shifts occurring that we need to be mindful and clear-eyed about challenges to the international rule of law.

To see Russia’s cynical exploitation of its veto to stymie the UN Security Council is an affront to the rules-based order. Nevertheless, in lieu of our ability to respond as a collective we have responded as a nation. For the first time outside of the UN framework, we passed legislation to apply sanctions to target Putin’s regime ability to finance and equip the war in Ukraine. Our response, alongside those who share our commitment to the international rule of law, state sovereignty and human rights, demonstrates the power of a unified collective response.

For a country like ours, the prospect of a weakening rules-based international order is a real concern. Rules act in the interests of smaller states and buffer against the might of larger states.

Our Commitment to Democracy and Openness

I mentioned briefly that the genesis of our statehood was founded in the Treaty of Waitangi and the Westminster system. We have come a long way in 183 years and our sense of democracy continues to mature as we move towards a NZ-centric, Pacific based model of democracy.

Having recently commemorated ANZAC day, it is a proudly held tradition for many kiwis that their ancestors fought in the great wars to ensure that we can maintain, protect and enjoy the freedoms we currently have.

In the Indo-Pacific, our wider home region, threats to democracy, security and human rights are putting pressure on the systems that have delivered decades of stability and prosperity to the region.

Democratic norms and universal human rights are being trampled on by the military regime in Myanmar. North Korea’s repeated missile launches in breach of UN Security Council Resolutions present a serious threat to regional stability. Developments in the South China Sea and increasing tension in the Taiwan Strait continue to be of concern. In a diverse Indo-Pacific, where we have differences we must have the maturity to discuss these openly and frankly. The Indo-Pacific architecture, with ASEAN at its centre, remains a critical platform for such discussions.

More broadly, multilateral institutions and frameworks have proved essential to initiate collective action on global challenges such as human rights and climate change.

The sustainability of our shared global resources such as fisheries and our oceans is reliant on global cooperation. The recent successful conclusion of a new global oceans treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity was a very positive and welcome example.

We know in our region, that climate change remains the single greatest threat to Pacific lives and livelihoods. The impacts of climate change are acute, enduring, and complex across the globe.

We must not let the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius slip from our grasp, and so need to meet the decarbonisation challenge with greater urgency.

Our Relationships and the Pacific Region

Importantly, our interests are shaped by the great blue continent – Te Moana nui a Kiwa, our connections are deep and longstanding. So the Pacific is a primary consideration for NZ as we think about our place in the world and what really matters to our sense of well-being.

The centrality of Pacific regional architecture matters and need to be better understood. We cannot reference the indo-pacific geo-strategic challenges and the Pacific ends up being a footnote.

The approach to address the shared, complex challenges we all face – including intensifying strategic competition and climate change – is through partnership with Pacific countries. For Aotearoa NZ this means working closely with our Pacific partners towards meaningful outcomes that support long-term resilience, in line with Pacific priorities, and with high levels of Pacific ownership.

It looks and feels different because co-designing solutions with the Pacific is about partnering. Action not words is what will matter to the Pacific. Building capacity will matter, enduring safe infrastructure will matter, economic resilience rather than indebtedness will matter, well informed adaptation will matter and respecting sovereign interests through shared values will matter.

Climate change remains the single greatest existential threat to Pacific lives and livelihoods.

Developed states will hear this message differently as it has a direct bearing on their domestic carbon emissions and localised actions. But the simple fact is that global warming if not averted will be most critically and harmfully felt in the Pacific – So collective action to address climate impact in the Pacific matters – it is their greatest security threat on all levels.

We are proud to have been a key supporter of Vanuatu’s initiative to request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change.

We have substantially stepped up our climate finance commitment, committing to providing NZ$1.3 billion in grant-based climate finance between 2022 and 2025, with at least 50 percent for the Pacific, at least 50 percent for adaptation and a partner-led approach that will work for priorities identified by the Pacific.

All this means that how we respond to Climate Action in the Pacific will support their sense of security in the region.

In addition to this we believe that the Pacific region can provide for its own security, as set out in the Biketawa Declaration. We are committed to ensuring there are no gaps, and no need to look outside our region in ways that could destabilise the arrangements that have served us so well, for so long.

On this, the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders reiterated in their joint statement last year that the region should take a ‘family first’ approach to regional security. Ostensibly this focus to regional security is as much about the Pacific asserting its voice on the Pacific way and regional sovereignty.

We support the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, and its vision of a resilient Pacific that is peaceful and prosperous. Strategic partners to the blue pacific should continue to engage with the PIF to raise their views regarding peace and security in the region.

Being Independent Does Not Mean Acting Independently

When we assert our independent foreign policy it is a robust and clear-eyed assessment of our interests and values against any given situation or challenge.

It is about making our own determination about which tools of statecraft are the right fit for our national circumstances, and how these are applied to the situation at hand.

Independence should not be confused with isolation, neutrality, or a fixed pre-determined view of how we will act on a particular issue.

It is about making our own determination about which tools of statecraft are the right fit for our national circumstances, and how these are applied with to the situation at hand.

It leads us to policy approaches that align with our primary interests and often with that of our likeminded partners, who share with us a common objective of upholding and strengthening the international rules based order. This includes our allies Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the EU and its member states, Japan and others.

But sometimes that is not always the case as I have outlined - there are interests unique to what we value, where we are, our connections and our experience that are unique to us. Oftentimes, we choose a path that may see our voice champion a position ‘against the odds’ like remaining nuclear free, supporting climate action in the Pacific, protecting marine biodiversity. We prefer to work with friends and partners. But over time, if and when we must, NZ has demonstrated its capacity to speak out if necessary.

I do not wish to be misunderstood, if there is a true regard and respect for an international rules based system this is not about small or large states - it must be about maintaining a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pacific region and global village.

The world is changing. The shifting, less stable and more challenging international environment I have spoken about will have significant implications for Aotearoa New Zealand. We will continue to assert our interests with the Pacific region in mind – because it matters.

Tēnā koutou katoa.