24 May 2022

New Zealand joins world powers in Indo-Pacific economic alliance

7:29 am on 24 May 2022

New Zealand has joined an alliance of Indo-Pacific nations aimed at countering China's influence in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend an event for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, in Tokyo, 23 May. Photo:

More than a dozen countries, including India, South Korea, Japan and Australia, have signed up to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which was launched by US President Joe Biden in Japan last night.

The framework outlined areas participating countries would now discuss setting commitments in, including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand would benefit from deepened economic engagement by the US.

"As the world recovers from Covid-19 it is critical that trade and economic links are opened up and structures are put in place to provide greater security against future shocks.

"The Indo-Pacific region is of the utmost importance for New Zealand's strategic and economic interests. We see this Framework as an opportunity to enhance our strong partnerships with major regional economies as we continue to reconnect with the world."

The US has been accused of being too focused on security in the Indo-Pacific, rather than the economy - allowing China to escalate its influence.

Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington Rob Ayson said that was likely one of the reasons President Biden created the framework.

"...Set up rules where the United States can work with partner countries which basically aid the disconnection of China from some of these trading partners and to, in a sense, aid the decoupling of China in the economic side of that regional competition."

Jacinda Ardern speaks to media at Parliament's theatrette

File photo: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee was sceptical of the plan.

"At the moment, it's very nondescript and until we have a little bit more flesh and bones on exactly what the intention of it is, it's hard to judge whether it's a thing that we should be putting massive effort into or simply being a party to."

Ardern said the framework could lead to tangible outcomes.

"What's been pitched isn't a traditional trade arrangement but that doesn't mean it can't ease the pathway for trade ... it doesn't mean that it can't make progress on sustainability or digital issues and so as long as that subject matters on the table, I think it's important that New Zealand is part of the talks."

Geoffrey Miller, an international analyst with the Democracy Project, said the framework could lay the groundwork for future trade partnerships.

Under former President Donald Trump, the US abandoned the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

President Biden has never committed to re-joining.

Miller suspected that was because such a move wouldn't be popular domestically, but said the new framework could pave the way for it to happen in future.

"They [the US] want to try and see things in a much longer term way than perhaps the US has done in the past and they can see that China thinks in a very long term way, they want to match that. Even if this framework is not very exciting, they can see it as the beginning of something. The mood may change in the US over time and then they can go into the CPTPP which is something that is worthwhile."

Ardern said the United States' current focus was the Indo-Pacific framework.

New Zealand had pushed for the US to re-join the CPTPP and would continue to do so, she added.

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