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Rt Hon Winston Peters: Presentation to Asia Forum

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Presentation to Asia Forum

New Zealand First Leader

15 August 2012


Presentation to Asia Forum

Bell Gully, HP Tower, 171 Featherston Street, Wellington
Wednesday 15 August, 5.30 pm

Engagement with Asia – A Perspective

Thank you for the opportunity to address this distinguished audience.

My theme is New Zealand’s engagement with Asia – the topics do not come any bigger!

But this is a critical issue for this country’s future.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the future of New Zealand will depend very heavily on how well we engage with Asia.

Engagement is a big theme and tonight I can only offer you a personal perspective.

In a short talk it is not possible to do any sort of justice to the many dimensions of the topic but I will try and highlight what I see as critical elements.

There is no simple formula for how New Zealand engages with Asia – the connections are so numerous and diverse.

India, China, Japan – and the South East Asian states – and the mind goes numb.

But a good place to start is to make the obvious point concerning the disparity in size between nations.

New Zealand is in the company of giants!

As well as China and India, many other nations have great populations. For example Japan with 127 million people and Indonesia 240 million people.

In contrast, the South Pacific island nations of which we are one are of a very different order.

So with a New Zealand population roughly equivalent to Melbourne, demographically speaking we are a ‘drop in the ocean.’

In relation to Asia disparity in size and capability between regional states is a reality.

That is important to bear in mind because of its implications for engagement.

In New Zealand we can fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenges that our friends in the larger Asia nations are dealing with

First, the scale of the challenges countries like China and Indonesia face dwarfs our concerns.

Second, size disparity means we have very limited resources so we have to make choices about priorities when engaging with the Asia region.

Third given the vast differences in power and population New Zealand has much to gain from a stable and co-operative international order in Asia – without any military might we need peace!

So the challenge is to engage constructively with Asia within our limited capabilities.

Engaging constructively does not mean kowtowing!

For New Zealand, the central issue in relation to Asia is how a small state can survive and thrive given the disparate and unpredictable forces of globalisation that are in play in the region.

And what is clear is that power – economic – demographic and military is shifting to Asia away from Europe and North America.

The global financial crisis has accelerated this trend.

Asia, particularly China and India, is the global centre of gravity in the emerging world.

And the twenty-first century is the Asia century.

They say that Australia is the ‘Lucky Country.’ Only time will tell if that adage holds true, particularly if fears about global warming prove to be correct.

But I would say New Zealand is lucky too as we have access to the opportunities that stem from Asia.

As you are aware, New Zealand was the first developed nation to conclude a free trade deal with China.

And it is an undoubted fact that New Zealand’s exports to China have grown rapidly since that Free Trade Agreement was signed, but curiously not as much as that of Australia which as you know does not have a Free Trade Agreement with China.

A great proportion of our trade in the future will be with Asian states.

But while New Zealand’s future is bound up with the region, we also have a heritage deeply rooted in Europe and its culture and traditions.

That is a rich heritage to tap and a source of great value.

Asia contains a wide range of constitutions and government structures – but it can hardly be considered the cradle of democracy

New Zealand and Australia offer Asia examples of stable and effective Parliamentary democracies.

We are not preaching but Australia and New Zealand do provide a model that other countries can look to and maybe draw upon.

On the international stage we know that New Zealand does not control events.

But we are privileged have a ringside seat to the Asian Drama!

There are huge forces in play.

Just look at China’s economic growth in recent years - an 8 per cent growth rate is treated like a sign of a major slowdown.

The one word to sum up China’s place in the region – and indeed the world is – ascendancy.

That ascendancy is now a fundamental aspect of our region’s future that we have to relate to.

But as we engage with China and other Asian states we need both eyes open.

There is no future in naivety.

There is need for a healthy scepticism in our relationships.

Take just two areas – currency manipulations and copyright infringement.

If we are playing by what we take to be the rules of the game we need to recognise that not everyone else is.

So while for example there is the letter of free trade agreements there is also the reality – and that can differ widely.

We need to be realists.

What is important is that along with its power and prestige, China also fully assumes the leadership role that goes with being a great power.

When you think of all the big issues confronting humanity:

Climate change

Population pressures

Food and water shortages

Energy supply shortages

Pollution and environmental degradation

Institutional corruption

If we are to make meaningful progress then the great Asian nations have to be at the forefront (and yes we have to play our part too!).


There is a wide range of institutional structures that support our connections to Asia and in the main New Zealand First supports these.

Clearly, an array of effective international agencies and mechanisms is needed to deal with conflicts, challenges and issues that may arise.

So, for example, we have ASEAN, APEC and the East Asia Summit.

While the institutions exist – their effectiveness is sometimes open to question.

At a time of discontinuity and uncertainty it is particularly important for international agencies to stay relevant.

Institutions that are established and designed to implement the ‘rules of the game’ are of limited value when the game is changing rapidly!

What I do think is remarkable is that given all the significant differences that exist among Asian nations in terms of constitutions and political systems, traditions and values, economic and social systems, overall the level of co-operation and consultative processes is remarkable.

But if humanity is to survive we are going to have to reach a whole new level of mutual cooperation.


In 2012 it is impossible to say with any certainty how the future for Asia and therefore our engagement with it will unfold.

It is has become a cliché but it is the case that we are going through a period of radical transition in global power.

And that shift is from West to East.

Uncertainties abound. There is potential for territorial and political disputes and conflicts to escalate as population and resource pressures build.

New Zealand certainly has the strongest interest in seeing any disputes being resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law. We therefore need to be active in forums that strengthen the rule of law.

As I said at the outset of this talk Asia is of fundamental importance to New Zealand.

We live in interesting, even tumultuous times.

But whatever the future holds – and unfortunately I do not have a crystal ball – the future of our nation will depend on our successful engagement with Asia.

Thank you for your attention.


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