New Leaders Forum

New Zealand in Asia

The Diplomat speaks with former New Zealand Prime Minister Mike Moore about his country’s place in Asia.

This month saw two key political and cultural events hosted in New Zealand – the Pacific Islands Forum and the ongoing Rugby World Cup. With this in mind, The Diplomat’s Pentagon correspondent, Eddie Walsh, contacted the Rt Hon Mike Moore, New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States, for his take on some of the key issues facing the country.


Does New Zealand view the existing Asia-Pacific security architecture – including the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM+), and East Asia Summit (EAS) – as sufficient for promoting its security interests, or does a new regional security architecture need to be developed?

Given the diversity of the region, and the points of friction that emerge from time to time, but also the absence of anything that might resemble a ‘Cold War’ stand-off in the Asia-Pacific, what exists by way of multilateral regional forums (ASEAN, ARF, EAS) remains the practicable way to proceed. In the eyes of many experts, New Zealand faces an increasingly uncertain strategic outlook over the next 25 years.

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Is the FPDA still a relevant organization for promoting peace and stability and New Zealand’s national interests in Asia-Pacific, or is it losing its raison d’être?

FPDA allows New Zealand to retain links to some traditional partners in terms of defence ties. It’s the case that FPDA was a successor to arrangements for Malaya/Malaysia during the Cold War, and could be seen as an outgrowth of concerns around the Malayan/Malaysian emergency. Clearly, the environment has changed markedly. But it remains an important point of contact for training and interoperability which the members of FPDA continue to find value in. Significantly, we have worked with other FPDA members in a number of peacekeeping contexts. In sum, we wouldn’t say that FPDA is ‘losing is raison d’être’ given the evolution of the arrangements.

How important is New Zealand’s voice in ARF, EAS, and ADMM+ to the country’s national interests?

New Zealand has been a dialogue partner with ASEAN for a number of decades, and has been an enthusiastic participant in ASEAN derived institutions – ARF, EAS, ADMM+. Regional forums of this kind offer a chance for the countries of the Asia-Pacific to engage in confidence building measures. These diplomatic communities allow countries of the region to work through a range of political, security, economic and environmental issues. We see these sorts of arrangements as appropriate to a region where there’s a widespread mutual desire to achieve stability and prosperity, but often between countries of very different political make-up and orientation. We put a lot of importance on our attendance and participation at these forums.

Is New Zealand well positioned to meet the security challenges of the South Pacific today?

The South Pacific region poses ‘security’ challenges that might be primarily defined as ‘non-traditional’ in popular parlance, although some of these challenges have been around for a long time. The relatively lightly populated Pacific island states cover a large area of the overall global surface area, which raises for these countries issues around maritime EEZ protection. Overfishing by fleets from the northern Pacific has been a particular problem in some instances. Environmental issues also loom large, with fears that sea rises will overwhelm some of the atoll states. New Zealand is also keen to assist Pacific island states to find sources of green energy in order to shift away from the use of fossil fuels for this purpose. South Pacific states are very vulnerable to even small environmental changes. Sustainable development in Pacific island countries is another challenge, and New Zealand has worked hard over the long term alongside these countries to provide public goods, good governance and working economies.

Given the wide range of non-traditional and traditional security challenges facing the region, how much will New Zealand need to rely on others to support its leadership role in the Pacific?

We don’t currently see any major power competition, or conflict between states, that would constitute a ‘traditional’ security threat in South Pacific. Nor do we foresee any future circumstances that would cause this to occur. It seems unlikely that extra-regional powers would attempt to acquire a series of military bases throughout the region. But in terms of internal stability in the region, we welcome the participation of a number of countries that can play a constructive role. Obviously, Australia, the UK, France and the United States are amongst those who we might think of as traditional actors in the South Pacific, alongside New Zealand. We’ve seen the emergence of countries in Asia playing a role; Japan has been engaged with the region for a long time, but increasingly China is providing assistance. We are keen to work with all aid donors in the South Pacific to ensure that the aid is appropriate for development needs. We see the involvement of external actors as a welcome supplement to the region’s prospects.

In follow-up to this point, how has China’s increased diplomatic and military assertiveness impacted New Zealand's strategic outlook? And the United States’ decline as a global hegemonic power?

The increasing diplomatic, security and economic role that China is playing in our region is a key consideration in our strategic outlook. We’ve successfully pursued a positive relationship with China, and remain the first and only developed economy to have a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with that country. China has an important role to play in multilateral forums. The US role in the Asia-Pacific, especially as security guarantor in Northeast Asia, remains important from our point of view – and something generally accepted across the region. It’s the case that power relativities have, and will, change between China and the United States, although we see the US role in the region as an indispensable one for the foreseeable future.

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How does New Zealand view increased French engagement in Asia-Pacific, particularly their new ‘strategic arrangement’ with Indonesia?

France has had a very long term engagement with the Pacific. France and Indonesia’s ‘strategic partnership’ appears to solidify an existing bilateral relationship, which revolves around diplomatic and commercial interests. Indonesia is a large and important country, and New Zealand has long recognized that fact. It’s also now a country with a consolidated democratic government. It seems natural to us that other countries of global significance would want to shore up their relations with Indonesia. The 2010 Defence White Paper states that it’s in New Zealand’s interests to play a leadership role in the South Pacific by being prepared and acting in concert with our South Pacific neighbours, now and into the future.

In the last two years, what emerging issues have most affected New Zealand’s national security strategy?

Our security challenges have remained consistent for some time. They include maritime security and the freedom of navigation, contributions to stabilization operations – in Afghanistan, Solomon Island, East Timor – assistance to governments in our neighbourhood, namely the Pacific Island States, and countering international terrorism and extremism.

Do you believe that New Zealand will need to increase strategic ties with other regional and extra-regional actors to advance its national interests?

One of New Zealand’s leading national interests is to smooth the way for free trade in goods and services. New Zealand’s relatively small economy is dependent on the free exchange of commerce, but this is something we believe will benefit every country in the region. This leads to our interest in achieving free trade arrangements at the global, regional and bilateral level. Many of the countries mentioned in this question are part of APEC. It’s also worth mentioning that we see great benefit in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) a negotiation involving nine APEC members, which promises to be a high-quality, 21st century free trade agreement that sets the rules for the region. TPP could be a tremendous boon for economic liberalization in the APEC context. We’re confident that it will, in time, demonstrate to the wider region the value of such an arrangement.

One thing we note is the tremendous growth of the middle class in Asia, and what an opportunity that creates for countries that want to lay down a framework that will integrate them into the Asia-Pacific. We note in particular the growth of the Chinese economy, which has now overtaken the United States as our number two trading partner. We see trade liberalization and flows of commerce as being more than just about our prosperity. Ties of commerce could supplement confidence building measures at the diplomatic level and create a situation whereby the countries of the Asia-Pacific come to understand that we all have a decided stake in a peaceful region.

In addition, the 2010 Defence White Paper is still relevant as a statement of the New Zealand government’s position.

Ambassador Mike Moore is a former New Zealand prime minister and a former director general of the World Trade Organization.