Mahuta is off (at long last) to visit six countries and host a festival of indigenous and tribal ideas at Expo in Dubai

Excitement is mounting in the Beehive.  Nanaia Mahuta is contemplating her first overseas visit as our Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Not, we might think, to Australia or the Pacific Islands (although she will drop in on the Aussies on the outward journey).

No, this is further afield, to host Te Aratini at Expo 2020 and visit six countries as well as meet with seven foreign ministers and a range of international representatives.

She announced yesterday she will leave New Zealand tomorrow

“… on an international programme to advance Aotearoa New Zealand’s interests on a range of issues, including our COVID-19 response and recovery and engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”

She acknowledged this is the first international visit of a New Zealand Foreign Minister since COVID-19 broke out across the globe. Continue reading “Mahuta is off (at long last) to visit six countries and host a festival of indigenous and tribal ideas at Expo in Dubai”

Australia aims to stymie China with $US1.6bn telecoms purchase in the Pacific

Australia is to buy the mobile phone networks of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu from Digicel Group based in Jamaica. Telstra Corp, the country’s biggest telecom operator, will pay $US1.6 billion for the deal backed by $US1.3 billion from the Government’s export finance agency.

Commentators describe this as a significant strategic move to block another potential buyer – China.  Three years ago, Canberra announced it would build an undersea high-speed internet cable to the Solomon Islands, shutting out China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from the project. Australia had earlier banned Huawei from involvement in its own 5G mobile network.

The purchase sits alongside underwater cables Australia has with its Pacific partners.

The Wall Street Journal quotes John Lee, a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, saying,

“It’s ensuring that a potential adversarial power doesn’t own infrastructure which would impact on not just Australia’s communications capabilities, but also its military capabilities. Underwater warfare is increasingly important and these cables are directly relevant to that.” Continue reading “Australia aims to stymie China with $US1.6bn telecoms purchase in the Pacific”

Lower the drawbridge – the PM is planning to bust out of the NZ bubble to talk trade (among other things) in Europe

PM Jacinda Ardern is planning a major visit to Europe next month. Details have yet to be announced but she is expected to visit Paris, Brussels and possibly Berlin.

She is heading NZ’s campaign to secure a free trade agreement with the European Union. First visit is likely to be Paris where she will have a warm welcome from President Emmanuel Macron. This couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.

The French are feeling bruised over the Australia-UK-US nuclear submarine agreement and the cancellation of the $80 billion contract to build French nuclear submarines converted to diesel-electric power in Adelaide. France has already signalled it would not impede a NZ-EU trade pact.

European countries generally are concerned at the new nuclear submarine pact.  EU capitals had no prior warning despite President Joe Biden’s expressed desires to repair relations bruised under Donald Trump.  It was also angered by Biden’s failure to alert Europe of his withdrawal from Afghanistan despite the presence of European forces in that country. Continue reading “Lower the drawbridge – the PM is planning to bust out of the NZ bubble to talk trade (among other things) in Europe”

Afghanistan: China and Russia will be strong influences on the Taliban as they fill void left by the US and its allies


This article has been contributed by CHRISTIAN NOVAK, who has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in history from the University of Sydney.  He is working for a private company in Wellington in a government relations role.  


While attention has been focused largely on the US and its allies as they abandoned Afghanistan, China and Russia have been waiting in the wings to fill the void.  From energy and construction projects to military and diplomatic initiatives, both countries will be an integral part of any international effort to influence and/or reign in Taliban behaviour.

Although Beijing senses an opportunity to press its belt and road interests, it worries that the disorder created by the Taliban could spill over the narrow border it shares with Afghanistan into Xinjiang province.  Indeed, the Taliban has long acquiesced to the presence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which contains Muslim Uyghurs from Xinjiang – where more than 1 million are being held in “re-education” programmes.

When Taliban representatives travelled to Tianjin for a two-day visit in July, the delegation assured China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, that it would “not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China”. Beijing, in turn, reiterated its commitment to not interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

But such goodwill doesn’t immediately translate to trust. Over the past two decades, Uighurs have launched several terror attacks in China in pursuit of their own independent state.  As a result, Beijing will be watching on closely to see if Taliban leaders can bring some sort of control to the beleaguered country.

But Beijing remains pragmatic and is prepared to exercise patience in pursuit of potential returns, such as its Mes Aynak concession.

Back in 2007, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation won rights to lease the giant Mes Aynak copper ore deposit in Afghanistan, which is said to be the second largest in the world. Continue reading “Afghanistan: China and Russia will be strong influences on the Taliban as they fill void left by the US and its allies”

Biden’s ratings are rocked by chaos in Kabul but the US appreciated NZ’s contribution to the evacuation

The war in Afghanistan is over after 20 years, according to a defiant speech by President Joe Biden, but the withdrawal  has left him and his administration wobbling.

Biden’s  personal poll ratings are now at 36%, down from 50% previously, while those of his vice president Kamala Harris are only 46% and she is failing to make political headway.

He faces strong domestic challenges. The House and Senate have passed two bills to fund infrastructure and a huge $US3 billion bill to fund a rang of measures from healthcare through education to social welfare.  The latter is mired in internal Democratic party struggles, largely because Biden wants to fund it largely through raising taxes from an average 23% to 28% and capital gains to 43%.

This sticks in the craws of moderate Democrats and most Republicans and is unlikely to proceed in its current form.

Later in 2022 the US will hold mid-term elections and already the parties are gearing up. The Democrats need lose only five seats in the lower house to surrender control to the Republicans (and end the career of Speaker Nancy Pelosi) while the Republicans need to gain only one seat in the Senate to control the upper house. This would leave Biden a lame duck.

On past results over 60 years, the party holding the White House also loses the lower house.

But  let’s get back to the war. Continue reading “Biden’s ratings are rocked by chaos in Kabul but the US appreciated NZ’s contribution to the evacuation”

Henare is grilled over NZDF’s evacuation mission but the numbers left in Afghanistan are still being counted

Defence  Minister  Peeni  Henare in  Parliament  yesterday stoutly  defended the  government’s actions  in Afghanistan — even though an  estimated 375 people were left behind when evacuation flights  were   halted.

Critics  contend that if Cabinet hadn’t taken the weekend off, many of those 375 might  have  been  airlifted  out.

Henare  brushed  aside  questions about why  the Immigration  Department  had  turned  down  resettlement applications  in  July.   

He  did  claim, however,  there had been “an exceptionally fast response”  on August 19 when  he  and a ministerial colleague approved the deployment of an NZDF C-130 Hercules aircraft and up to 80 NZDF personnel, some to operate on the ground at the Kabul airport and the remainder to be based out of an airbase in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Continue reading “Henare is grilled over NZDF’s evacuation mission but the numbers left in Afghanistan are still being counted”

Debacle in Afghanistan – NZ can’t escape criticism for its role in the West’s shameful exit from Kabul

“Biden’s  Debacle”:   The  Economist said  it  all  with those words on  its  cover  page  headline  last  week.  The  Guardian  Weekly   chimed  in   with “So Long: The  End of  the  American  Century”.

In its editorial, The Economist said: 

“If  the  propagandists of  the Taliban had  scripted the  collapse  of the  20-year  mission to  reshape  Afghanistan , they  could  not have come up  with more  harrowing images….Afghans were  left  in  such  a  horrifying   bind   that  clinging to the  wheels  of  a  hurtling  aircraft seemed  their  best  option.

“ It is  an appalling  outcome for  Afghanistan’s 39m   people”. Continue reading “Debacle in Afghanistan – NZ can’t escape criticism for its role in the West’s shameful exit from Kabul”

Biden’s credibility goes down with Afghanistan’s collapse – and the NZDF scrambles to bring back Kiwi contractors

Afghanistan collapsed quicker than the Wallabies’ scrum and President Joe Biden now looks set to pay the price politically.

Kabul surrendered without a shot while the US departure from the benighted country’s capital was described by the Wall Street Journal as “Saigon on steroids.”

The New Zealand Defence Force has had to scramble to secure an RNZAF Hercules which will head to the United Arab Emirates tomorrow to help the allied evacuation.

There are as many as 40 New Zealanders in Afghanistan, all believed to be working as contractors, including security.

The last NZDF forces departed in April.

Biden defends the withdrawal of US forces as a policy set in train by former president Donald Trump. After 20 years, he says, this was enough.

But the US military has been forced to send in 6000 soldiers and marines to protect departing US nationals. Continue reading “Biden’s credibility goes down with Afghanistan’s collapse – and the NZDF scrambles to bring back Kiwi contractors”

Three new heads of mission are appointed and there are more diplomatic posts to be filled

The   government  has  named   heads  of   mission to three   key  diplomatic  posts, in  Iran, Ethiopia  and Indonesia.

In  announcing them, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta  was  herself  at  her  most  diplomatic.

Mike  Walsh  is to  be Ambassador  to  Iran,  where,  she  says,   NZ  has a  “constructive  relationship, despite  a  number of  challenges”.

Michael  Upton  will  be  Ambassador  to  Ethiopia  where,  according  to  Mahuta, “NZ is taking a strong interest in developments, particularly the current challenges faced in Tigray.”

Kevin Burnett   will  become Ambassador  in Jakarta.   Mahuta  says  NZ “enjoys a strong relationship with Indonesia. As Pacific neighbours, with complementary economies, we are natural partners”.

Walsh,  a career  diplomat, who  has held   postings in Samoa,  Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and  Kiribati,  will  also be accredited to  Pakistan  and Afghanistan.

Mahuta  says the NZ Embassy in Tehran, which opened in 1975, is NZ’s oldest in the Middle East.

Walsh’s  previous  experience includes  working in MFAT’s Development, United Nations and Commonwealth, Environment, Economic, Trade Negotiations, Pacific and most recently Māori Policy division. His iwi affiliations are to Taranaki, Whanganui River, Otaki, and Te Whanganui a Tara.

The  minister – while noting Upton has a professional background in International Development, with extensive experience working across the Pacific region – points  out  NZ and Ethiopia have a traditionally warm relationship underpinned by development co-operation, and long-standing shared multilateral interests.

“Ethiopia is also home to the headquarters of the African Union, and is an important political and economic hub for Africa. Given our values based foreign policy, NZ is taking a strong interest in developments in Ethiopia, particularly the current challenges faced in Tigray.”

Upton joined MFAT in 2008. He has managed the Pacific Economic Development Programme and held several postings to Samoa and Kiribati where he was most recently High Commissioner.

He will also be accredited to, Djibouti, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles and Uganda.

Mahuta  says  NZ  and Indonesia in 2018 have celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations.

The visit by President Joko Widodo to NZ in March 2018 was the first by an Indonesian President to NZ since 2005. During the visit, leaders announced the elevation of the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership, reflecting the increasing value of the relationship.

Burnett is a career public servant and has previously held roles at Defence and the Ministry of Justice.

He was the Chief of Staff at MFAT and principal adviser to the Chief Executive in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Most recently Burnett was the Consul-General to Honolulu and Ambassador to Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Point   of  Order  understands    Mahuta   has  several  more diplomatic   postings   under  review.  But  onetime  Labour   politicians    who  may  think  they  are  in  line   for   some   of  the  more  prestigious    postings   may  have   to    wait some  time   before   she  discloses  what’s  in  her  mind.

There  has   been  a whisper of Phil  Goff letting it  be  known in  the  upper  echelons of  the Ardern  ministry   that  he  might be  available   for   London  or   Washington,  but   not  till  after  the  local  elections   next  year.

And   Dame  Annette  King,   who  took  up  the  role  of  High  Commissioner   in  Canberra  in  2018   after  30  years  in politics,  may  be  looking  forward  to  her  retirement.  She  celebrates  her 74th  birthday  in September.

PM’s foreign affairs speech – fortifying what Mahuta said – resonates strongly with the Biden Administration

 It has taken nearly nine months but finally the government has spelled out its foreign policy, much to the relief of neighbours, allies and friends.  Speeches by both Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and now Prime Minister Ardern have been followed closely in many capitals.

It’s no coincidence that President Joe Biden called PM Ardern this week. 

Ostensibly, the call preceded the PM’s Zoom meeting with APEC leaders.  The real reason seems to be that – at last – Washington DC has heard the policy, in person, from NZ ministers.

According to Washington and Wellington the call went well and was cordial. Continue reading “PM’s foreign affairs speech – fortifying what Mahuta said – resonates strongly with the Biden Administration”