4. Peters wants stronger Asia-Pacific voice

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says New Zealand must adapt its foreign policy to a more complex environment. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

New Zealand must strengthen its voice in the Asia-Pacific as the country faces an “inflection point” in its history, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says. Sam Sachdeva reports.

Peters has also announced the creation of a new development fund to help the Government deliver on its “Pacific reset” as it boosts aid to and involvement in the region.

In prepared remarks for the opening of the University of Otago’s Foreign Policy School conference, Peters said the Government was preparing to take the next steps in its foreign policy approach, after boosting funding for international aid and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Addressing criticisms about the decision to focus on foreign spending instead of domestic issues, Peters said the approach made sense from both an economic and policy perspective.

“Every dollar spent today in the Pacific reduces the risk of expensive interventions in the future, whether military, border security or healthcare.

"But this is also about doing what is right...we will do what is right in the Pacific in a pragmatic way - avoiding the pitfalls of both dreamy ivory tower idealism and zero sum power politics.”

New Zealand’s investment in the Pacific would focus on on “footprint projects” which would last 50 years or longer, such as Kiribati land reclamation to deal with the threat of climate change, Peters said.

MFAT was establishing a new Strategic International Development Fund so the Government could be “flexible and responsive to the emerging needs of our Pacific partners”.

Our strength as an 'honest broker'

Peters said New Zealand would also need to partner with other countries delivering Pacific aid, such as Australia, the UK and Japan.

The country’s value as a foreign partner was not in its size, but the quality of its foreign policy.

“New Zealand’s leverage internationally must rest on the quality of our ideas and the principles we promote, including our reputation as an honest broker.”

New Zealand needed to strengthen its voice in the Asia-Pacific and advocate for an “open and inclusive regional order where international law prevails”, he said.

Peters mentioned “troubling developments” in the South China Sea, where China has been building military installations on reclaimed land, saying the actions of some claimants in the territorial dispute risked escalating tensions.

“New Zealand is at an inflection point in its history...it is not a time for intellectual timidity. It is a time for original thinking as we develop foreign policy prescriptions from adaptation rather than deliberate creation.”

The global system was under severe strain, making life for small states like New Zealand more difficult and meaning the country had to alter its approach to foreign policy.

“It is both a time for being deliberate and a time to adapt. It also reinforces the need for New Zealand’s independent voice to be both subtle and strong.”

He encouraged academics and media to lift their contribution to foreign policy, saying orthodox views would not do enough to advance debate.

“New Zealand is at an inflection point in its history...it is not a time for intellectual timidity. It is a time for original thinking as we develop foreign policy prescriptions from adaptation rather than deliberate creation.”

Previewing defence policy

Peters also offered a teaser of the Government’s defence strategic policy review, due for release this week by Defence Minister Ron Mark, saying it outlined significant changes to New Zealand’s strategic environment.

“'Great Power competition' is back. Climate change is impacting our immediate neighbourhood. Across geography and domains, challenges once conceived as ‘future trends’ have become present realities.”

“Serious progress” had been made on the replacement for the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, with a decision looming as the Government’s next significant announcement on defence procurement.

While an Indo-Pacific configuration made sense for countries like Australia and India, Peters said the term Asia-Pacific “resonates with New Zealanders because of our own geography”.

However, Peters appeared to walk back on Mark’s suggestion at the Shangri-La Dialogue that we had to consider “adjusting our terminology somewhat” when it came to the US and others referring to the Indo-Pacific, rather than Asia-Pacific.

While an Indo-Pacific configuration made sense for countries like Australia and India, Peters said the term Asia-Pacific “resonates with New Zealanders because of our own geography”.

“This is consistent with - and indeed complementary to - our partners’ policies.”