7 Jul 2022

'It is grim out there' says Jacinda Ardern in foreign policy speech

3:13 pm on 7 July 2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the global situation is increasingly polarised and contested but also offers opportunities, in a speech on foreign policy in Sydney.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a speech on foreign policy at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute in Sydney. 7/7/22

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a speech on foreign policy at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute in Sydney. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a speech on foreign policy at the Lowy institute in Sydney.

Ardern has promoted trade and tourism and attended business events during her visit to Australia, pushing the message that New Zealand is back open to the world.

Her speech today largely focused on New Zealand's independent foreign policy approach in the face of an "increasingly difficult" global environment, while highlighting a regional pact being worked on as the Pacific Island Forum nears.

Much like her speech to NATO leaders at the summit last month, she again raised instability created by the war in Ukraine, saying the sense of peace and stability Europe had "broadly experienced since the aftermath of World War Two has been shattered".

"The war itself is challenging our notions of conflict and demonstrating how multifaceted warfare now is, with cyber-attacks and prolific disinformation accompanying the more traditional forms of combat."

She also reflected on an "increasingly contested environment" in the Pacific - a semi-veiled reference to the increasing presence of China in the region.

"Add to that the wider global impacts of an ongoing pandemic, the economic crisis that has ensued, and the powerful forces that are disrupting social cohesion and the trust people have in the institutions that serve them - and if this isn't enough, we are yet to succeed in addressing one of the most immediate security issues in our region, that of climate change.

"In a word - it is grim out there."

Watch Jacinda Ardern's speech here:

However, she said she was an optimist and there were opportunities to be seized. She talked up New Zealand's focus on global cooperation and reliance on international bodies in upholding a rules-based order, while also talking about the need to reform them.

"Multilateral institutions are imperfect, and they have and will fail us, and when they do fail our first port of call must always be to find ways to make them stronger. Equally, we cannot be left unable to respond to global challenges because we encounter dysfunction or - worse - moral failings," she said.

Her statements about the Pacific highlighted the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent members have been working on.

She said New Zealand was a part of the Pacific family, and called for cooperation among "those for whom the region really is home" - another implicit reference to China.

"We have a history of meeting one another's needs, including most recently through the regional deployment of personnel to Honiara ... the model exists, we need to use it," she said.

She repeated that it would wrong to characterise China's investment and engagement in the Pacific as new, but warned that while diplomacy must be the primary tool for dealing with rising Indo-Pacific tensions the region itself must lead its own development.

"Priorities should be set by the Pacific, they should be free from coercion, investment should be of high quality," she said.

"Issues that affect the security of all of us, or may be seen as the militarisation of the region, should come through the PIF as set out in the Biketawa and Boe declaration, as such a change would rightly affect and concern many."

Ardern said trade and economy were what would "truly build resilience", and New Zealand was "breaking new ground" with its trade partnerships and a focus on climate and digital economies.

She also referred to New Zealand's nuclear-free policy and the challenge of disarmament; the Christchurch mosque terror attacks and the Christchurch Call; and the challenges of climate change for Pacific countries.

New Zealand had committed $1.3 billion over four years to the latter issue, with half of that going to the Pacific.

"We need to look to the role we can play to bring in that support on the terms the Pacific sets, and the PIF is a great way to do that."

China has 'a role to play'

Answering questions after the speech, Ardern said despite the structural failings built into the UN Security Council, New Zealand would not abandon multilateralism.

"We still though will seek the reform to ultimately ensure that we don't see a weakening or a lessening of the value or relevance of those multilateral institutions. That's still very important to New Zealand but we will seek to respond in the meantime.

She said it was Singapore Prime Minister Lee who first articulated the importance of not labelling the Ukraine war as a conflict of democracy versus theocracy.

"Let's not assume that China as a member of the security council does not have a role to play in placing pressure and response to what is a loss of territorial integrity at the hands of Russia. Let's not just isolate them and assume that it's only democracies that take this view."

She later expanded on that to reporters, saying China's role on the UN Security Council meant it had more power, but with that came responsibility.

"As a nation that has benefited from the rules-based order ... there is a responsibility there. Obviously they'll make their own decisions but that doesn't stop New Zealand sharing its view."

"We of course believe that there's more that can be done and we'll continue to voice that concern."

She warned against pigeonholing China as a non-democratic nation.

"If we treat some of the geostrategic issues that we have in our region in an overly simplistic way then we lose the opportunity to engage and we risk further isolating some of those individuals that may be involved in some of that escalation," she said.

"You will have seen some who have referenced the relationship that exists between China and Russia, you've also however seen China articulate their concern over the challenge to territorial integrity - and referenced the UN charter - as the flaw to their relationship.

"So we've sought to highlight that - if that's China's position then it's our view they should join with the international community in calling out Russia in its war in Ukraine."

Meeting with Australian prime minister, potential for Ukraine president visit

Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will hold their first formal annual leaders' meeting tomorrow.

She said it was likely to be an extension of the first conversation they had, and again played down the likelihood of immediate policy solutions.

"The difference will be we have with us our ministerial team, able to jump into a bit more detail on specific subject areas and to make a little more progress. It won't necessarily bring issues to conclusion - it's still very early days for the new government here - but a very good opportunity.

"I'll also be looking to hear the prime minister's reflection on his recent visit to Kyiv - just an insight into what he's seen on the ground and what role he believes New Zealand and Australia can play in the reconstruction."

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky had - while she was in Europe - extended an invitation for Ardern to visit the country, but she turned it down because she already had travel commitments in the continent.

She said, however, it was an open invitation, although had no "immediate" plans to visit the war-torn country.

"And likewise the invitation for him to - at a time and a place when it's possible for him, when there's resolution and reprieve - he knows he is always welcome to visit New Zealand.

"I can tell you he expressed a deep desire to do so."

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