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Speech: Peters - “Pacific Partnerships” - Georgetown

“Pacific Partnerships” - Georgetown address, Washington DC

“Pacific Partnerships”

Georgetown Address, in partnership with the Center for Australian, New Zealand & Pacific Studies - Georgetown University and the NZ Embassy

Good afternoon. Welcome to Ambassadors and representatives from embassies here in Washington, D.C and the US Government. A warm welcome also to representatives from civil society, academia and the business community. Particular acknowledgement to Professor Joel Hellman and Alan Tidwell from Georgetown University for co-hosting this event alongside Ambassador Rosemary Banks and the New Zealand embassy.

As you are all no doubt aware, New Zealand is a small but well-functioning democracy located at the bottom of the world. New Zealand is small, to be sure, especially when you see us on a map as an isolated collection of islands surrounded by the vast Pacific and Southern Oceans and which has us situated some 2,500 kilometres from our nearest neighbour Australia.

New Zealanders are a proud people, proud of our history and full of pride about our historic social reforms in the 1890s and 1930s. Just as Americans feel proud about their founding–with a purpose for the ages unfurled in the Declaration of Independence and then codified in the Constitution that created the great American experiment in government–New Zealand is singularly proud of one of our firsts – women achieving the franchise in 1893.

The quintessential American writer and humourist Mark Twain noted when visiting our shores in 1895 that in New Zealand law occurs thus: “The word person wherever it occurs throughout the Act includes women. That is promotion, you see. By that enlargement of the word the matron with the garnered wisdom and experience of fifty years becomes at one jump the political equivalent of her callow son of twenty-one.”

New Zealand also produces world-class athletes, excellent food and wine products for export, and we have an innate desire to engage with the world. This latter characteristic is in equal parts a reflection of our geography and of our national psyche.

It has led us on a history of being a supportive friend and a plain speaking people, which Twain also observed about us. It also means that now, as then, we consistently seek out good partnerships, which is also the purpose of today’s speech.

There are few relationships better than that between New Zealand and the United States. We share a special connection for we both retain democratic traditions that have stood firm despite the upheavals of the twentieth century.

Our institutions are founded on democratic values, respect for human rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and free and fair trade. Promoting and maintaining the rule of law is the defining feature of both of our political systems.

Because of these common values and democratic traditions, it’s hardly surprising that our global interests so often correspond, and that we have repeatedly worked together in times of international crises and in the face of major global challenges. And we will continue to do so.

We recently celebrated 75th anniversaries of Allied efforts to liberate the Pacific in the great campaigns of 1942 and 1943, in which the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island communities sacrificed so much. We fought together in World Wars I and II, and in Korea and Vietnam. Today the New Zealand Defence Force is present in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside US personnel.

While New Zealand and the United States work together on a range of global issues, our cooperation and like-mindedness is now coming into sharper relief in the Asia Pacific where the region is becoming more contested and its security is ever more fragile. It is New Zealand’s view that the Asia-Pacific region has reached an inflexion point, one that requires the urgent attention of both Wellington and Washington. And that is why we are here.

A nuclear armed North Korea is one threat that has the potential to undermine security. New Zealand's diplomats and its Defence Force are engaged in support of US-led efforts to enforce UN resolutions, with the expectation that pressure will force meaningful dialogue. We are pleased that the United States and North Korea are back at the table.

In the South China Sea, claimants in the various territorial disputes have acted in ways which challenge international law and norms. Tensions are escalated by artificial islands built in contested waters, and which are militarised. New Zealand has consistently urged parties to resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law and in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Within this context, there is another area where greater co-operation is now timely - the South West Pacific. The significant focus of our visit to Washington is to share our concerns and enlist greater US support in the region closest to New Zealand. We unashamedly ask for the United States to engage more and we think it is in your vital interests to do so. And time is of the essence.

New Zealand and the United States, we believe, have particular responsibilities in the Pacific as two countries which, through their geography, history and people to people connections, are intrinsically part of the region.

The United States, for its part, has been a major actor in the Pacific for well over two centuries. One could trace the beginning of America’s Pacific journey back to Lewis and Clark’s scarcely believable ‘Corp of Discovery’ at the beginning of the 19th Century, one that extended the United States’ reach to the Pacific West Coast and from there across the Pacific Ocean.

Just over three decades later, in 1838, half of the whaling ships visiting the Bay of Islands in New Zealand were American. In 1842, President John Tyler extended the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ to Hawaii and two years later he signed the ‘Treaty of Wanxia,’ which opened up Canton and four other ports to American merchants, some 128 years before Richard Nixon, in this historical sense, ‘re-opened’ China in 1972.

At the same time as the ‘Accidental President’ Tyler was extending American interests in Asia and the Pacific, British immigrants had settled colonial New Zealand and signed the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ between Queen Victoria and the indigenous Maori people. The Treaty created a new society, one that celebrates today an uninterrupted history of democratic elections since responsible government began in the colony in 1854. The Pacific has seen our country’s histories and interests intertwined since these earlier times.

So, the Pacific was one vast canvas for the United States’ emergence as a global power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That canvas embraces the United States’ special responsibility to the Freely Associated Compact States of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands. American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas, all of which remain US territories. Hawaii is the northern-most part of Polynesia, besides being a US state.

The United States does not simply have interests in the Pacific. You are a part of it and New Zealand welcomes this recognition through House Resolution 1157 which reaffirms the strong commitment of the United States to the countries and territories of the Pacific Islands region.

New Zealand is similarly in, and thoroughly of, the Pacific. We are the southern-most part of Polynesia. The first New Zealanders were Polynesians who embarked on journeys into the unknown much like the pathfinders Lewis and Clark.

We have special relationships with and constitutional obligations to the three Pacific Realm countries Niue and Cook Islands, which are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand, and Tokelau–a massive expanse of ocean with three inhabited atolls–which remains a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand.

And beyond our respective constitutional links that we share, New Zealand and the United States also share a connection as English speaking democracies although, as any American from the Deep South who encounters a typically fast talking New Zealander will attest, or as our respective governments in the mid-1980s found, we are on occasion also separated by our common language.

But our Pacific bonds are strong and only getting stronger as both countries possess fast growing Pacific and Polynesian connections. To keep it simple, many of the last names on the Brigham Young University football roster for this year look similar to the University of Auckland’s premier rugby team. These names like Luatua, Kapisi, and Lotulelei – are Polynesian names.

For both of our governments, Pacific issues are domestic as well as foreign policy matters. The US Department of Interior is a major player in the Pacific Islands by virtue of the US territories and free association with the Compact States. US Indo-Pacific Command enhances stability, helps to preserve security, and possesses the most capable forces able to respond to contingencies, including natural disasters.

More now needs to be done, working in partnership with Pacific Island countries. We need to ensure that all external actors have the Pacific Island’s interests in mind, including respect for the prevailing economic, social, and political conditions in the region.

New Zealand is acutely mindful of, and archly concerned by, the asymmetries at play in the region at a time when larger players are renewing their interest in the Pacific, with an attendant element of strategic competition. The speed and intensity of those interests at play are of great concern to us. Our eyes are wide open to this trajectory and we know that yours are too.

Given these developments, New Zealand has committed to a fresh approach to the Pacific - the Pacific Reset. It marks a significant shift in New Zealand’s foreign policy and in our ambition and investment in the region. At the heart of our efforts is a focus on building deeper, more mature political partnerships with Pacific Island countries, and supporting their independence and sustainable social and economic resilience.

The Pacific Reset also reflects New Zealand’s response to the increasingly contested strategic environment in the Pacific in which more external actors are competing for influence. This calls for close cooperation with Pacific Island countries, Australia, the United States, and other partners with historic links in the region–countries such as Japan, the EU, UK and France–to uphold values that we share and want to promote in the region; values like democracy, good governance, greater women’s participation, and above all the rules based systems on which the region relies.

New Zealand also acknowledges new actors in the region, like China, and welcomes all partners in the Pacific on terms that take account of the Pacific’s needs, where quality projects are sustainable and delivered transparently. We work with China in the Pacific and will continue to do so on those terms.

New Zealand has significantly lifted development assistance programmes in the Pacific, with US$ 500 million in new funding over four years. We are also increasing our security contributions and better coordinating with partners. New Zealand is substantially increasing both the quantum and quality of its diplomatic footprint across the region – to boost our understanding and influence. That foundation is one we intend on building upon.

Last week my government announced an increase in the numbers of diplomatic and development staff it is posting to the Pacific region, as well as to the capitals of other countries we hope to work in partnership with.

In the course of this year the New Zealand Government has also issued a revised Defence Strategic Policy Statement. And in terms of military procurement we decided to purchase four new maritime surveillance aircraft – P8s – to do our share to promote regional security.

New Zealand is the second largest development donor in the Pacific Islands. Australia contributes 40 percent of support. US assistance is similar in size to New Zealand’s efforts, but is focused on those parts of the region with which you have constitutional links. Japan, France, and European Union are also significant contributors.

We are saying today to the United States that we welcome your involvement but ask you to join us in doing more because nations with common interests and common causes can achieve more together than any of us can manage on our own.

Given our sense of urgency about Pacific risks we also point to the need for partners to support each other economically – through free trade and by understanding each other’s economic imperatives – because we can only achieve our collective ambitions by strengthening the economic engines that drive our shared desire to compete better, provide enhanced security, and, ultimately, to see the Pacific region and each other prosper.

In terms of Pacific Island states, at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum members affirmed, through the Boe Declaration, an expanded concept of security in the South Pacific. It addresses the wide range of security issues facing the region, including an increasing emphasis on human security, environmental and resource security, transnational crime, and cybersecurity.

Collective solutions to shared challenges in the Pacific require strong and vibrant regionalism, with institutions that can convert political will into action, supported by partners who align their efforts with the region’s priorities.

These are all areas where the United States has excellent capability and a track record in the Pacific. New Zealand encourages Washington to keep its definition of security assistance broad as it assesses its future efforts in the area.

New Zealand welcomes recent announcements by the Trump Administration, including announcements by Secretaries Pompeo and Zinke of new funding to strengthen maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping capabilities across the region besides other support for training and equipment for Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Tonga. And it was good to see the United States represented at the Pacific Island Forum at Cabinet-level.

In 2018, New Zealand, Australian, and US senior officials have stepped up Pacific-focused cooperation. This has already led to enhanced collective efforts with Pacific governments – on infrastructure, efforts to enhance maritime domain awareness, wider military cooperation with Pacific islands states, combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and other transnational crime, and humanitarian and disaster response.

There are also new opportunities for New Zealand and the United States to work together in the parts of the Pacific closest to New Zealand such as Samoa, Tonga, and the Cook Islands, whether in infrastructure, disaster resilience, or human development.

As partners, New Zealand and the United States have a long history of answering each other’s calls for help. In 1942, the United States came to the defence of New Zealand in a very direct sense. Since then, New Zealand has regularly answered the call when the United States has mobilised its friends in defence of its interests and international security more broadly.

The US Marines Second Division memorial in Wellington, placed in memory of US personnel who embarked from New Zealand to Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and other Pacific battlegrounds, is inscribed: “if you ever need a friend, you have one”. New Zealand is now calling on its friends in the region to step up in support of the Pacific Islands.

Our Pacific friends have made clear the many challenges they face and they have identified their priorities, including climate change, which is an existential question for many of them.

Time, tide and political change wait for no man or woman. We need to act now. Working in partnership with our Pacific neighbours, we have a clear role to play in bolstering the capacity of Pacific Island countries and regional institutions to tackle priority challenges in the region. Working together we can support the prosperity and security of the Pacific region and its people. This will benefit us all.


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