Since taking office in this Govt, Foreign Minister Winston Peters has applied heft to NZ’s role in the Pacific. Now, 18 months on, he reflects on what has been achieved.
Speaking to the NZ Institute of International Affairs, he said NZ is moving away from the donor-recipient dynamics of the past, and building more mature relationships with Pacific Island countries.
The message that NZ is a partner, and not just a donor, has resonated in the region and enabled frank conversations about shared policy priorities and challenges.
The government has lifted its leadership diplomacy effort, with an increase in high-level engagement, both in terms of travel into the region, and hosting Pacific leaders and ministers here.
Agencies are focused on greater coherence on Pacific issues across all parts of the Government, recognising the close connection between foreign and domestic policy in our Pacific engagement.
Through the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme every year NZ supports over 12,850 people from the Pacific to work in NZ which translates into $40m worth of remittances.
NZ is lifting its focus on and investment in Pacific security issues and advancing new initiatives to support Pacific Island countries on key security priorities, including security sector leadership capability, tackling transnational crime, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, border management and security and cyber security.
The Government has underpinned the Reset by substantive new resources. An additional $842m over five years in Budgets 2018 and 2019 has been allocated to the NZ aid budget, most of which is being directed towards the Pacific. Official development assistance as a proportion of Gross National Income has been sustained at 0.28%.
Through this development assistance, NZ is doing more on issues that matter to the region, including climate change, economic resilience, health and education, governance, gender, human rights and youth
Peters says the strategic landscape continues to shift. Global interest in the Pacific is rising, with increased engagement and investment from both long-term and new partners.
Pacific Island leaders, at the 50th Forum meeting in Tuvalu in August, noted that alongside the impact of climate change, increasing strategic competition was exacerbating the region’s vulnerabilities. Leaders highlighted the importance of maintaining regional solidarity in the face of intensified political engagement.
As this global interest has increased, NZ’s emphasis has been on encouraging engagement in the region that aligns with and supports Pacific priorities and values, and contributes to the security, prosperity and sovereignty of the region and its people.
As a region, the Pacific is not a passive actor. A new generation of Pacific leaders is emerging, seeking new ways to project a Pacific voice on the regional and international stage and help advance collective solutions to shared challenges.
This new generation of leaders follows in the footsteps of the late Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva, a Pacific leader who championed democracy and good governance across the Pacific.
The regional architecture of the Pacific Islands Forum is providing a critical mechanism for the regions leaders to determine how to respond collectively to the regions shared challenges.
At the 50th Forum meeting in Tuvalu in August, Forum leaders resolved to take urgent action on climate change. The Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now is the strongest collective statement the Pacific Islands Forum has ever issued on climate change.
Within NZ’s $300m global commitment to climate change-related development assistance, $150m has been dedicated to a Pacific programme to bolster NZ’s climate change support in the region, focused on initiatives including water security climate hazard mapping, combatting invasive species threatening food security and improving access to international climate finance.
Human development issues are being addressed with new initiatives on distance and flexible learning, tackling non-communicable diseases, and on improving access to essential pharmaceuticals.
Initiatives have been launched to improve internet connectivity, economic governance, and sustainable management of Pacific Island countries’ fisheries and marine resources.
NZ focuses on greater coordination and engagement with key external partners engaged in the Pacific, and is encouraging increased engagement in support of the Pacific’s own priorities and objectives. This includes other countries active in the region, as well as key multilateral organisations and entities.
Australia continues to be a critical partner for NZ and close coordination across the breadth of our respective efforts in the region is a significant aspect of engagement between Wellington and Canberra.
NZ welcomes the United Kingdom’s decision to establish three new high commissions in the region. NZ has partnered with the governments of Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United States and Japan on a major new electrification programme to lift access to electricity in PNG. With Japan, we are building the Pacific Climate Change Centre in Apia. New Zealand and the EU are working together, along with France and Australia, to tackle the interconnected challenges of biodiversity and climate change.
The Government has boosted NZ’s Pacific-focused diplomatic footprint, with 10 new diplomatic and development roles in the Pacific and four new Pacific-focused roles in key capitals outside the region.