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PM: Address to Reuters Newsmakers Seminar

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address to Reuters Newsmakers Seminar

Peace, security and Prosperity – Developments
from a New Zealand perspective

Canary Wharf

7.15 pm GMT

Friday 10 November 2006

(8.15am, Saturday 11 November 2006 – NZ time)

Thank you for inviting me to address you on the issue of peace, security, and prosperity in the Asia Pacific from a New Zealand perspective.

Everyone here is well aware of New Zealand’s historical links to Britain and more broadly to Europe. It is those links and the dedication of the New Zealand Memorial which bring me to London at this time.

New Zealand will forever be part of a shared community of values with the democracies of Europe and North America, and our relationships with them are extensive and extremely valuable in every respect.

But the logic of our geography is that we are part of the Asia Pacific, and we have hugely important economic, security, and other interests there. Peace, security, and prosperity in the Asia Pacific matters greatly to New Zealand. I will comment today on our interaction with East Asia and with the island nations of the South Pacific

Asia provides half of our top twenty export markets, and is a significant source of our skilled migrants, tourists, and international students. We cannot afford to stand aloof from Asia, and we do not.

Rather we immerse ourselves in the regional architecture of the Asia Pacific, taking our place in each new grouping which emerges and is open to us.

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The geo-strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific region is changing rapidly. Japan and China are major world powers, and India too is emerging as a key global player. South Korea, Taiwan, and a number of the ASEAN countries have made significant economic progress. The region is generally stable, but some tensions between nations remain. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have developed an ominous edge, and the cross-Straits relationship between China and Taiwan continues to be a flashpoint. Other threats to regional security include terrorism, which has had a particularly harmful impact on Indonesia.

Within the next 20 to 25 years China will become the world’s largest economy, overtaking that of the US. India on current projections will not be far behind. The region comprises around sixty per cent of the world’s population. With economic might comes regional and global influence. While the twentieth century belonged to the US and Europe, the twenty-first century will probably belong to Asia.

Countries within the region are repositioning themselves in response to these changes. India is looking east, with one commentator there famously describing India and New Zealand as the bookends of Asia. Many countries are carefully assessing the potential of their relationship with China. ASEAN is seeking to accelerate what until now has been the slow pace of its own economic integration, and is pursuing stronger economic and political relationships with other countries in the region – especially China, Japan, and India. The situation in Myanmar and the recent coup in Thailand, however, provide real challenges to ASEAN’s political cohesion.

New Zealand has been a dialogue partner of ASEAN for 32 years, and a participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum on security issues since its formation. We are also a founder member of APEC.

The most significant recent addition to the regional architecture has been the establishment of the East Asia Summit. It brings together the ten ASEAN countries with their ‘plus three’ partners, China, Korea, and Japan, and includes India, Australia and New Zealand. Its objectives are to promote political, security, and economic co-operation region-wide. The initial concept was for a community of thirteen members. But New Zealand, Australia and India were included by ASEAN in the inaugural EAS meeting in Kuala Lumpur last December. The reasons for that relate to recognition of India’s dramatic economic growth and ‘look East’ policies, and of the deepening involvement of New Zealand and Australia in the region, including through our accession to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

Early commentary from Europe was sceptical about what the EAS would amount to, and indeed the destination is unclear. But we should not underestimate the value of a regular dialogue which brings together the leaders of major players like China, India, and Japan in the same room. In time, we hope the Summit will develop into a force for East Asian integration and community building, and contribute to ongoing regional stability and prosperity.

It must be remembered that APEC too began without an entirely clear roadmap, but over time its Leaders’ Summits have become one of the most significant annual international meetings. They are underpinned by regular ministerial and official contact, and by growing economic co-operation across the Asia-Pacific.

Initiated as an economic forum, APEC has broadened its focus to consider a wide range of issues which impact on trade and economic growth – from terrorism to communicable diseases and corruption.

Now that the international spotlight is going on the economic effects of climate change, that too needs to come on to the APEC agenda, and it may well emerge as a significant theme when Australia assumes the chair next year.

Everyone knows that decisive action on climate change cannot be taken without commitment from all major economies – developed and developing. Even the large economy of Britain contributes only two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and New Zealand’s contribution is infinitesimal.

Yet while we enter into commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, others are far from doing so. That has to change if the planet is to avoid disaster – and that means climate change coming onto the agenda of all major fora as we strive to get greater international buy in to programmes of action.

APEC’s strength is as a trans-Pacific forum bringing the United States, China, and Russia to the same table; linking the Americas to Asia, Russia’s Far East, and Australasia; and encouraging the development of shared views on trade and security issues across a very wide range of nations and political systems. That this happens at all, let alone that it happens harmoniously, has to be considered a major achievement, and is certainly very positive for peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific.

For New Zealand, the benefits have been not only in the deepening of multilateral co-operation, but also in enhancing bilateral relations with a focus on the economic.

Without APEC, it’s hard to imagine that we would today be parties to new trade agreements in the region, and be negotiating others.

In the APEC region, New Zealand now has bilateral free trade agreements with Singapore and with Thailand; and a trans-Pacific FTA with Singapore, Brunei, and Chile – which is also open for others to accede to.

As well, we are currently in FTA negotiations with China, Malaysia, and all of ASEAN.

The China negotiations have been through their ninth round, with reasonable prospects that New Zealand will be the first developed nation to enter a FTA with China. This follows our being the first nation to conclude a bilateral WTO accession agreement with China, the first to recognise China’s market economy status, and the first Western nation to enter FTA negotiations with China. As the country of the three firsts, we are well positioned for the fourth.

And we are convinced of the benefits for us. Ours is an open trading economy, with around 95 per cent of goods by value entering free of tariff. Considerable barriers, however, greet many of our products going the other way to China.

For China, the benefit of concluding an agreement with New Zealand will be in the demonstration effect of showing that it can enter such agreements with developed economies.

The impetus for FTAs in the Asia-Pacific has not been confined to New Zealand. FTAs of variable quality criss-cross the region. The challenge now is to encourage those negotiating them to set higher benchmarks.

Japan and Korea have yet to open up to the kind of agreements which New Zealand seeks to negotiate, but they are signing preferential agreements with others which could cause us concern over time.

In the final analysis, that is why bilateral and even regional FTAs will never be a substitute for a successful WTO Round, which can achieve comprehensive results and real gains for small players like New Zealand.

The Uruguay Round was worth a great deal to New Zealand’s economy, and further advances on agricultural trade and forestry, through the Doha Round would be of considerable benefit to us.

When New Zealand thinks Asia-Pacific, it thinks not only of East Asia and the western seaboard of the Americas, but also of the island nations which, along with New Zealand and Australia, make up the Pacific Island Forum.

The very word ‘Pacific’ conjures up images of peace and tranquillity. Alas, that rather belies reality in parts of the Pacific today.

Fiji is going through another trying period, with its military rumbling yet again about the elected government. The three coups it has suffered since 1987 have held it back for years, and a fourth would be deeply dispiriting. Intense regional diplomacy is going on to support the processes of constitutional government in Fiji.

In the Solomon Islands, the worst happened with a serious breakdown of law and order, culminating in 2003 with a request for help. All Pacific Island Forum nations have participated in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, mainly through police contingents. New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji have all contributed defence force personnel as well.

A great deal of progress was made in restoring internal security in the first three years, allowing basic services in health and schooling to resume and the economy to begin to function better.

But the serious riots after the general elections a few months ago were a setback, and the consent environment for the regional mission is not what it was.

The issue of the future of the regional mission dominated the Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Nadi, Fiji three weeks ago. I believe it can be secured if the mission has a broader Pacific flavour about it, and if clear benchmarks towards an exit strategy can be set.

The nations of the South Pacific have small economies with limited resources – and run the risk of even greater marginalisation this century.

New Zealand has played a significant role in the development, by the Pacific Island Forum’s, of the Pacific Plan, which takes a more strategic approach to growth and development, environmental sustainability, and better governance in the region.

In line with the Pacific Plan, the Forum countries are moving forward on freeing up trade, labour mobility, waste management, development of renewable energy plans, health strategies to address HIV/AIDS, enhanced support for good leadership and accountability, a digital strategy for sharing internet and information technology, and support for judicial and public administration training.

The Pacific Plan represents the agreed regional priorities for the Forum Island Countries, and will also be reflected in their individual development plans. This gives good guidance to development partners on where resources would be best targeted.

Acknowledging the importance of remittances to small island economies, New Zealand has permanent migration quotas for five small nations, and has just announced a new seasonal labour policy which will enable Pacific people to work in New Zealand’s horticultural and wine industries where we are short of labour.

Our own goals in the region prioritise good governance as a bedrock for development. Maintenance of law and order is a precondition too. We want to see the Pacific’s precious natural resources, such as fisheries and forests, sustainably managed for future generations. We want to see poverty addressed and maximum engagement in the social, political, and economic life of each country by all sectors of the population, including the most vulnerable.

How we achieve our goals in the Pacific is important and goes to the heart of New Zealand values. We cannot act effectively without the agreement of our partners in the region. A hallmark of New Zealand diplomacy in the South Pacific is our commitment to seeking a strong consent environment for what we do.

The concept of ‘consent environment’ covers the range of permission – formal and informal – which is needed to be able to work effectively inside another sovereign country’s space.

It involves much consultation, a lot of listening, a commitment to building a sense of shared objectives, and checking that support for actions exists at each step of the way.

It’s about being prepared to be patient, to work for the long haul, and to provide resources for goals which may take years to achieve.

That consent environment cannot be assumed, as can be seen in the Solomon Islands. Relationships have to be worked on and continually renewed to keep them in good shape.

Effective regionalism and co-operation in partnership with others are keys to our ability to act effectively, particularly on issues which by their very nature are trans-national in character- such as the management of migratory fish stocks, and regional shipping.

Finally, I will comment on the contribution interfaith and cross cultural dialogue can make to building peace and security. New Zealand has become closely involved in the Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue, where we take a co-sponsorship role along with Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The Dialogue brings together faith and community leaders, experts, and other civil society representatives from fifteen countries of the Asia-Pacific to enhance mutual understanding, tolerance, and peaceful co-existence amongst the region’s faiths and communities – and in so doing to address the some of the causes of religious conflict and extremism in the region.

The Dialogue, while still at an early stage, is gaining real support around the region. Governments and faith community representatives alike recognise its potential to improve the long term prospects for peace in our region.

New Zealand is hosting the third meeting of the Dialogue in May 2007, and places a high priority on the success of the event. The meeting, at Waitangi, will build on the earlier discussions in Yogyakarta and Cebu, and move to develop proposals for practical projects to build better interfaith and inter-community understanding.

Peace and security does not guarantee prosperity, but prosperity is endangered and in many cases impossible without peace and security. As responsible nations in the global community we have an obligation to work together to ensure that the world we leave behind us will be a better and more stable one than the one which we inherited. That is the agenda New Zealand works to in the broader Asia Pacific.

Thank you


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