2 May 2024

Winston Peters still trying to find out what Aukus Pillar 2 is about

9:45 am on 2 May 2024
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters speak to the press in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, April 11, 2024. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Winston Peters, who met with Antony Blinken in the US last month, says New Zealand is a long way from deciding on joining Aukus. Photo: AFP

The Foreign Minister is adamant he hasn't changed his position on Aukus Pillar 2 and says he couldn't make a decision now because New Zealand hasn't been invited and doesn't know what it entails.

In a speech on Wednesday night, Winston Peters addressed criticism of the trilateral partnership and said considering joining the second phase of the security pact was a long way off.

Peters told Morning Report all he was doing was continuing work started by the previous government to consider it.

"In the end it is a long trail of investigating, quite rightly, what it might mean and we are a long way from making any decisions here."

Labour maintains that the government's language around Pillar 2 has changed from neutral to pro.

That's partly due to Peters joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month which said: "We share the view that arrangements such as the Quad, AUKUS, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity contribute to peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and see powerful reasons for New Zealand engaging practically with them, as and when all parties deem it appropriate".

Peters said he personally included the end of the sentence "when all parties deem it appropriate".

"That's what I wanted to be sure, that first of all we knew what we were talking about, we had a discussion in the political system of this country, told the people of this country, after we had been even first of all invited.

"That's the fact of this matter, you've got a whole lot of people way ahead of themselves, making ridiculous comments, they've never been part of any briefing on this matter."

Peters said Pillar 2 could be about "whole lot of things" and that's what he was trying to find out.

He still hoped a bipartisan approach could be reached when it did become time to decide.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark said the idea of joining Pillar 2 should have been dismissed "quite some time ago".

"It's not clear that there is anything on offer that New Zealand A: Would want, and B: If it did want it, couldn't get through other relationships.

"It is clear that Aukus Pillar 1 is a nuclear submarine technology agreement which is aimed at containing China."

Clark said it was a "pretty high risk game" to be following US foreign policy regarding China.

New Zealand should be a constructive voice for diplomacy and peace, she said.

"When you keep poking your major trade partner in the eye with statements aligning with the otherside of a dispute that it's in, you do put yourself at some risk."

Peters speech was defensive and he was trying to walk back the statements made in the US, Clark said.

"When you say there are 'powerful reasons' you owe to the New Zealand public to spell out what they are."

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