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Peters: Influences in the Pacific

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

16 August 2006
Speech Notes

Influences in the Pacific
Delivered to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference,
Debating Chamber,
Parliament Buildings

Madam Speaker, Parliamentary colleagues from New Zealand, Australia and the wider Pacific region, distinguished guests, and all those visiting specifically for this conference.

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

Since becoming Foreign Minister nearly 10 months ago, great emphasis has been placed on New Zealand's role in the Pacific region.

In many ways this is part of a continuum building on recent efforts of past New Zealand Foreign Ministers. Indeed, articulating our role in the Pacific has become a cornerstone of New Zealand's wider foreign policy.

The Pacific is our neighbourhood.

The people to people links, the cultural and social interrelationships, the many and varied governmental, sporting and business links, all add to the integrated influences that underpin our relationship with the region.

The Pacific has also increasingly become a vital part of how New Zealand interacts with the wider global community.

While it is easy to regard the Pacific as series of disparate islands, spread across a massive ocean, this ignores the reality that it also accounts for nearly a quarter of the globe.

The inherent nature of an interdependent modern global environment requires the Pacific to commit to robust and broadly based engagement with a range of partners.

The Pacific's strategic relevance ensures that much of the globe continues to seek influence in the region of one form or another.

Today's address will consider the nature of this 'influence' in the Pacific from New Zealand's perspective.

Influences on the Pacific are many and varied. They can be both direct, such as development assistance, and indirect, such as climate change. They can be wielded by individuals, economic interests both large and small, other countries, NGOs or phenomena such as extreme weather events and other natural disasters.

They can include disease, mortality rates, educational standards, or cultural, religious and sociological influences. They are both internal and external. Old and new.

The economic pressures of managing the demand for scarce resources, combined with managing the expectations and aspirations of the people of the Pacific, adds a further dimension to those influences shaping the region.

An additional influence is the often complex and nuanced world of international diplomacy and politics, particularly among larger partners who form the periphery of the Pacific.

While the Pacific has long learned to cope with and adapt to internal influences, it is the increasing number of external influences that present both a growing challenge and a range of opportunities.

Clearly external partners have their own individual reasons for engagement with the region. These may be about historical linkages, shared policy interests in a secure and prosperous region, commercial interests, wider international security considerations, or a desire to exert influence in support of wider foreign policy interests.

There is currently a strong interest by external partners in engagement in the Pacific region and equally, a heightened recognition by the region of the need to engage strongly and effectively with its major partners.

A number of countries, such as France, Japan, China, and the United States, have elevated their diplomacy to include periodic summit meetings to symbolise the importance that they attach to dialogue with the countries of the Pacific.

With three of its territories situated in the South Pacific Ocean, France plays a foundational role in the region, which was showcased by the Oceania Summit it hosted in Paris in June.

France maintains a strong regional presence supported by significant financial transfers, defence links, cooperation in maritime surveillance, and active engagement through regional agencies such as the Secretariat for the Pacific Community.

France is also a strong advocate for the Pacific as a member of the European Union. The EU recently announced a strategy for the Pacific, which calls for a strengthened political relationship, support for regional cooperation and integration, and more efficient and focused development cooperation. It has been active in the region in recent months; negotiating the conclusion of an Economic Partnership Agreement with Pacific Island countries, and sending election observers to Fiji.

The United States has strong historical linkages with the region and a continued engagement, through its Compact states in Micronesia and as a Post Forum Dialogue partner. The recent extension of Millennium Challenge funding to certain Pacific countries is a significant indication of US interest in regional stability.

This interest has been strongly affirmed to the New Zealand government by Washington officials and we are working to strengthen our own dialogue on Pacific matters with the US. The United States is a constructive partner in the pursuit of democracy, good governance, and the rule of law.

At the Pacific/Asia Leaders’ Meeting (PALM) in Tokyo and Okinawa, Japan – already a significant player in the region – announced a significant increase in its development assistance to the Pacific, signalling a refreshed commitment to the region.

China has significant and growing political, commercial and aid interests and has recently intensified its regional diplomacy through a series of high level visits to the region, a thrust towards more structured economic cooperation and the development of new business linkages.

New Zealand recognises and welcomes the opportunities presented by the engagement of a significant aid, trade and economic player. Both sides are seeking closer dialogue on Pacific issues as China’s engagement in the region grows.

Pacific Island countries, through the Pacific Islands Forum, have acknowledged the need for substantive and proactive engagement with external partners and this is reflected in the Pacific Plan. The Forum has embarked on a review of the Post Forum Dialogue, once the main mechanism for external engagement at the regional level.

While New Zealand firmly believes that dynamic partnerships are a key to the region’s future prosperity and security, we must also ask ourselves the question: 'what defines the quality of external engagement in the region?'

It must be acknowledged that while such engagement offers the prospect of very real benefits, there are genuine risks that small island countries will be overwhelmed by the complexity of multiple engagements.

New Zealand encourages external partners to respect the critical local development and security needs of the region and not overwhelm these in pursuit of their own external agendas.

We seek engagement that does not undermine the principles of good governance, stability and sustainability, while recognising the potential of uncoordinated aid to undermine development endeavours.

New Zealand actively seeks to discourage 'cheque book diplomacy', off-budget aid and aid with poor accountability structures, gifts, and other practices that encourage corruption and poor governance. Those who seek to manage their relations with the region in this way not only do great harm, but also run significant risks to their own international reputation.

Regular formal and informal dialogue with a range of external partners on Pacific issues allows New Zealand to exchange views and information and to highlight our policy objectives of quality external engagement in the region in the best interests of Pacific security and prosperity.

Existing regional mechanisms, such as the Pacific Islands Forum have an important part to play in enabling the Pacific to achieve its priorities. This extends to engaging a range of committed partners who understand the needs of the region and who may be prepared to champion issues – such as climate change – in multilateral arenas.

Without this, the perspectives and challenges confronting the Pacific can easily be overlooked, placing the region at risk of being left behind in a competitive global environment

Such engagement recognises that the Pacific's relative means, isolation and distance limits the capacity of the region simply to 'go it alone' even in primary partnership with Australia and New Zealand.

The Pacific's development challenges are complex and multifaceted and different external players can bring policy insight, development expertise, and resources, to assist the region to address these challenges.

The reciprocal side of such engagement requires the Pacific to be in touch with the changing expectations of the international community on complex issues such as security and counter terrorism.

Investment and commercial linkages are essential for the Pacific’s future prosperity. The region needs to look outward to develop robust linkages at the same time as consolidating and maximising opportunities within the region itself.

While the Pacific will largely be the master of its own destiny, external influences and partnerships – when conducted in the best interests of Pacific security and prosperity – have an important part to play in the Pacific’s future stability and prosperity.

Nobody is underestimating the challenges we face, but with active dialogue we can be confident that disparate external partners along with the countries of the Pacific, including New Zealand, can act together to help the Pacific flourish. Because ultimately we all have a vested interest in a successful and thriving Pacific region.

Thank you.


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