Navigating Aotearoa to a ‘New Normal’

Speech to the 55th Otago Foreign Policy School
6pm, 2 July 2021
Whakataka te hau ki te uru,
Whakataka te hau ki te tonga,
Kia mākinakina ki uta,
Kia mātaratara ki tai,
Kia hī ake ana te atakura
He tio, he huka, he hauhū
Tīhei Mauriora!
This is the 55th year that Otago University has hosted its Otago Foreign Policy School. We are meeting here two years on from the last foreign policy school and so much has changed. As countries have sought to respond to a global pandemic the world looks very different to the one we knew in 2019.
These extraordinary times require an innovative approach. With a global pandemic there is greater uncertainty and a compounding impact on the pressing challenges the world faces such as inequality and poverty and the urgency to act on climate change. A shift in geopolitical relations is creating tensions spilling over to trade, diplomacy, regional stability, open and transparent democracy and human rights.
In the face of all this let me navigate you through the approach that I seek to undertake as an indigenous Minister of Foreign Affairs for Aotearoa New Zealand.
Resetting the Toolkit – Ko Matariki tonu te tohu
We are in the season of Matariki, a time to signal the new year in the Māori calendar. This is a time to draw from our ancestors, to celebrate our connections, and to recognise occurred in the past year what has been and those who have passed on. It’s also a time to look to what lays ahead.
In February of this year I used the opportunity to set the scene with regards to the perspective I intend to bring to the Foreign Affairs portfolio.
We have a unique opportunity to ground our approach to foreign policy in the principles of such as partnership, active participation and protection. We have the capacity to enable rangatiratanga and support mana.
Aotearoa’s founding document te Tiriti o Waitangi, and our experiences over the past 180 years have taught us that as a society we need to work hard to understand the strength of difference; the opportunity in understanding; and the growth from respect. Where there has been conflict, there must be restitution and reconciliation.
Simply speaking our journey as a nation has been far from straight-forward – it remains a ‘challenge space’ that often strikes at the fabric of who we are as a nation.
But like our navigating and voyaging ancestors it is a journey we are destined to make.
So we need to evolve our toolkit, we need to call on the bi-cultural values that we have access to and are unique to us.
Those values are;
manākitanga (kindness, care, the spirit of reciprocity and our common humanity),
Whanaungatanga (connectedness),
Mahi tahi and kotahitanga (working towards a common purpose, shared objectives and unity),
kaitiakitanga (stewardship and intergenerational wellbeing).
These values are intrinsic to our toolkit to help navigate our journey. We seek to create enduring relationships and acknowledge the mana or sovereignty of all countries, large and small.
These values, our experience and the inherent perspective that a treaty informed approach builds our credentials as a country.
Our independent foreign policy is grounded in a unique context that expresses our values as we pursue our interest in regional and global stability.
Aotearoa New Zealand is well-known as a supporter of multilateralism, peaceful dispute resolution, environmental stewardship, and universal human rights. We will continue this approach as we expand our toolkit with the bicultural values I have referred to.
We are of Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa – the Pacific
I have maintained that our approach to the Pacific must be anchored in our many connections or whanaungatanga to Polynesia.
We share kaitiakitanga responsibilities for the environment, especially in relation to the Blue Ocean Continent; our economic and health connectivity with the region since Covid-19 has been magnified; and our common security interests are more profound given the increased attention from actors outside of the region.
Our strength and success as a region relies on kotahitanga where Pacific countries are committed to working together. The regional architecture must be fit for purpose and able to build Pacific-owned solutions to the challenges of today, and more importantly, the challenges of tomorrow. An example of this is the current state of the Pacific Islands Forum and the need to ensure that the architecture supports ambition across the whole region.
Our engagement will be partner-led and this will matter. We will support each island nation’s ambition to chart their own development pathway in conjunction with our common commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over time it is my intention to strengthen the integration of this approach to our Overseas Development Assistance Framework.
Already, we have committed to providing protection against COVID-19 to at least 1.2 million people in the Pacific over the coming year. Further support will help Pacific countries respond to the shock of the pandemic, with $120 million in Official Development Assistance reprioritised to support Pacific economies in 2021.
This comes on top of the $300 million we have committed to climate change related development globally, with $150 million of this dedicated to building the resilience of the Pacific in the face of climate change.
Building a resilient Pacific also means enabling other partners to engage in the region in a way that supports Pacific priorities. A key focus for us will be making sure that co-investment alongside Pacific partners supports long-term outcomes and has a high degree of Pacific ownership.
Extraordinary Times and Complex Landscape to Navigate
Eighteen months ago we experienced Covid-19 arriving on our shores and we have been preoccupied with our response and recovery since.
Prior to that the geopolitical outlook was shifting, indicating we were heading towards a world that was becoming less open, less secure and less free. We were in the midst of a climate emergency – and we still are. Our planet was and is facing serious global environmental crises, such as the loss of biodiversity and increasing pollution.
In many respects Covid-19 continues to amplify that we live in an age of uncertainty and risk. Our global recovery is now taking place within a context of deteriorating stability and security. We see worrying attempts by some countries to undermine international rules.
There is a lot we do not know for certain about COVID’s trajectory, but its effects on societies and governments will compound over time. We must learn to adjust our own foreign policy sails as we determine new directions.
COVID’s effects will be most severe in lower income countries – those less resilient, including in the Pacific. One worrying trend which cannot be ignored is the scourge of inequality, which has grown and sharpened in the past year.
The unequal vaccine distribution worldwide is one example of this. While some countries and regions are on the road to recovery, others are far from it. As World Bank President David Malpass has noted, this inequality extends beyond vaccinations, touching other measures like median income and access to credit – all of which put lower income countries at a disadvantage. Years of growth and development opportunities are at risk as these countries grapple with Covid-19 and wait for vaccines. In that regard, I welcome the G7’s recent commitment to make one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses available to poorer countries.
In March, the UN reported that the pandemic had pushed more than 114 million people into extreme poverty, with women making up about 58 million of this number. From health to the economy, from security to social protection, it is clear that women and girls have been impacted more severely by Covid-19. The ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence, which has grown alongside Covid-19, underscores this.
Such inequities pose risks to our global recovery, which is already uneven and fragile. They have driven up the risks of populism, instability and violence.
The resurgence of nationalism is also worrying. When many countries put their short term interests first, we see a weakening in our ability to co-operate on common broad objectives.
As a result, the institutions which give all countries a voice, particularly small countries like ours and those in the Pacific, came under enormous pressure. We saw this as the World Health Organisation (WHO) worked to coordinate the international health response. And in the pandemic’s early days, the World Trade Organisation’s members initially struggled to identify concrete, collective actions that would ensure essential goods could be manufactured and shipped internationally.
These pressures on our international institutions reflect the atmosphere of global competition we now face. We are seeing increasing geostrategic competition playing out across multiple issues and geographies, including in our region, the Indo-Pacific.
The pandemic has also tested the resilience of the international links which connect us to the rest of the world. Vital air and maritime links are under pressure. Importers and exporters face supply chain issues, and we have seen countries take nationalist and protectionist measures in trade. These disruptions will continue to drive changes to the way people, businesses and governments think about international travel, education, work, immigration and trade.
But COVID-19 is not the root cause of these challenges. COVID has lain bare the challenges and exacerbated that which was starting to occur long before COVID arrived in our world.
We now find ourselves responding to aggravated security risks, including transnational crime and cyber threats. It has undermined stability in many places, made humanitarian crises worse, and heightened civil unrest and conflict. And as we meet these challenges, we must not be be diverted from the ever-present challenge of climate change and threats to the ocean environment on which we, and our Pacific neighbours, rely.
While the current strategic environment is challenging, we have an opportunity as a global community to work together to build back better. It is in our collective interests to do so given the enormity of the challenges before us.
Relationships and Partnerships
I want to speak to the strength of our honongā, our connections to others.
New Zealand has a strong tradition of partnering with other countries to achieve our objectives.
With Australia, for example, we share our closest foreign policy and security partnership. We are whānau. While we have our differences, there is vastly more upon which we agree. We are bonded by our single economic market, the connections between our people, and our common interests in the region and the world.
Last month Prime Ministers Ardern and Morrison discussed a wide range of issues, as set out in their Joint Statement. Importantly, they agreed on the need for coordinated regional and global action on issues such as human rights and climate change.
The United States is an essential security and defence partner, an important economic partner, and a leading source of the innovation and technology we need to keep improving the standard of living for all peoples. We work closely together in so many areas internationally, in the Indo-Pacific and closer to home, in the Pacific. We continue to work closely with the US to protect and promote the core ideals and interests we share as liberal democracies.
Coalitions of like-minded countries are also central to how New Zealand has and will continue to work. We work in a range of diverse, cross-regional groupings like ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum, to support progress on issues that matter to us, including the principles of open markets, liberal democratic norms, human rights and collective security. We decide which countries – or non-state actors – we partner with depending on the issue at hand and driven by how we can most effectively advance our interests and values.
China is also one of our most significant relationships. A couple of weeks ago, I had a discussion by phone with the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi. We talked in depth about our bilateral relationship, including opportunities to continue working together on climate change, and to further strengthen our trade and economic relationship. I also took the opportunity to raise New Zealand concerns in a number of areas where China and New Zealand have different perspectives, including on Hong Kong, and the human rights situation in Xinjiang province.
And of course, closer to home, our whanaungatanga with the Pacific Islands will continue to be of the upmost importance in our relationships.
Our Values are an active expression of who we are
Looking ahead, we have mapped a course for Aotearoa New Zealand’s foreign policy under my tenure with a view to supporting intergenerational wellbeing, peace and prosperity for all.
We are committed to protecting and promoting human rights globally. We will continue to make good on our reputation for standing up with others to speak out when we see human rights under threat.
We have increased our focus on rights and freedoms related to inclusive participation in democratic institutions as a core pillar for peace. And around the world.
We want to engage more broadly across the Indo-Pacific region to promote peace, economic integration and prosperity. We seek a region that is inclusive, transparent, upholds international rules, particularly UNCLOS; where countries are sovereign, markets are open and where ASEAN remains centre-stage.
Close partners such as the UK, Germany, and the EU are also taking a closer interest in the region and we welcome greater co-operation. India is and will continue to be immensely influential and prominent in the region.
We will use our opportuniy as hosts of APEC this year to build resilience and lock in the wider region’s prosperity.
As we promote a number of other practical trade initiatives that will contribute to a sustainable and inclusive COVID-19 recovery for Aotearoa. These include:
keeping supply chains open for vaccines and other essential goods and services;
backing safe and seamless travel across borders;
cutting down environmentally-harmful subsidies; and
fossil fuel subsidy reform.
Alongside our efforts to pursue our EU and UK Free Trade Agreements, we are working to support the Alliance for Multilateralism to make the international system stronger, more inclusive and effective.
We will continue to navigate other risks to New Zealand’s security – particularly in our immediate region. We will keep up international development cooperation, and actcting as a strategic partner to build long term resilience in partner countries. We will remain vigilant and work closely with security partners, including Australia, the US, EU, UK, Canada, and Japan to counter terrorism and transnational crime, maritime security threats, and regional health crises. And we will work to keep our people safe.
We will continue to be committed to nuclear disarmament and to strengthening the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We will keep pursuing the humanitarian and security benefits that flow from disarmament. We will work with multilateral partners to develop a framework to achieve common objective in space founded in
This is our opportunity to ground our approach towards a resilient foreign policy for our future.
No reira,Ki te Kotahi te kākaho,Ka whati, kit e kāpuia e kore e whati

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