12 Apr 2024

AUKUS, Gaza on agenda during Winston Peters-Antony Blinken talks in Washington

1:47 pm on 12 April 2024
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, April 11, 2024. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Foreign Minister Winston Peters in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 11, 2024. Photo: AFP

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and US Secretary of State have agreed there are powerful reasons Aotearoa should engage with international arrangements such as AUKUS.

Peters and Antony Blinken met in Washington overnight.

Peters said among issues discussed were Gaza and Ukraine, and the role of New Zealand and the United States in responding to both conflicts.

They also discussed the trade and economic relationship between the two countries.

A joint statement pledges that New Zealand and the US will work even more closely together.

It says that includes arrangements such as AUKUS, which aims to advance military technology among US allies and supply nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

The leaders say there are strong reasons for New Zealand to engage practically with AUKUS.

The Quad (the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity are also mentioned in the statement as key protections for peace and security in the Pacific.

The Quad is a security grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia.

Earlier, an official told Korean news agency the AUKUS partners were considering a range of additional partners including South Korea, Canada and New Zealand, in addition to Japan. The day previous, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said they proposed to "look at a project-by-project" approach.

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 and Antony Blinken speak to media after the meeting. Photo: AFP

Defence Minister Judith Collins told RNZ the government welcomed the announcement "about the pathway for others to engage" in Pillar Two.

"Inviting other like-minded nations to contribute to the non-nuclear military technology partnership under Pillar Two reinforces shared objectives of regional security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific," she said in a statement.

A formal decision was up to Cabinet, she added.

Meanwhile, Peters also got a treat for his 79th birthday, with the US Deputy Secretary Kurt Campbell and his team putting on a birthday cake

"A cake so lush, it could easily be mistaken for a Kiwi pavlova," the US Embassy in New Zealand said on social media.

'It is critical we show up' - Peters

Peters is returning to New Zealand, following two weeks of meetings across Europe, Egypt and the United States.

He said he was pursuing an active and energetic foreign policy, as New Zealand faced the most unstable global environment in decades.

In a statement, Peters said the government must be present, listen to all perspectives and bolster relationships with New Zealand's traditional partners to adapt to the challenging global environment.

"We cannot afford to sit back in splendid isolation in the South Pacific, pontificate smugly, and talk exclusively to those countries we agree with.

"It is critical that we show up, listen to all perspectives, and enhance partnerships with our traditional friends, so that we can adapt to the complex global environment and protect and advance New Zealand's security and prosperity.

"It is the New Zealand government's job to engage with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, and to understand how other nations view the major issues of our times. This has been a major focus of the coalition government's first four-and-a-half months, so we can repair the damage done to our international reputation by the last three years of inaction and neglect," Peters said.

New Zealand is making a credible contribution to the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, Peters said, while also focusing on "bringing about a freer, more prosperous and more secure Indo-Pacific region."

"This visit has reinforced the coalition government's view that New Zealand has an important role to play in our region and indeed the world, and the best way to have the most impact is to work together intensively with other countries that share our values and strategic interests."

AUKUS membership a matter of timing

An international law expert says New Zealand joining the defence pact AUKUS is "just a question of when".

University of Waikato law professor Al Gillespie told Morning Report there was a possibility other countries will join at the same time.

"Which will be likely Japan, South Korea, maybe Canada. The risk with that situation is that there will be a reaction from opposing forces such as China and Russia."

There was a revolution in technology occurring within the military sector at present and it would benefit New Zealand to keep abreast in fields such as AI and cyber warfare if it wanted to have "a credible military".

Gillespie said if New Zealand does join AUKUS, it might need to spend much more on defence.

He said every week there were events occurring such as the situation in Europe or allegations of Chinese spying in the New Zealand Parliament that was pushing the country into the new alliance.