12 Apr 2024

NZ's foreign policy sea-change

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 12 April 2024

Winston Peters is treading a delicate line as New Zealand balances the sensitivities of trading partners with a stronger Western alliance.

Winston Peters

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Honourable Winston Peters is back on the world stage, and showing every sign of relishing his new, old, job. 

But it won't be business as usual for him in spite of having held the Foreign Affairs role twice before. 

"I think we're seeing a sea-change in New Zealand foreign policy," says Geoffrey Miller, a geo-political analyst with The Democracy Project. 

"It's a gradual (shift), and it's been happening for a number of years now. We are gradually re-aligning ourselves with the 'western bloc' if you like, becoming closer with what Winston Peters calls 'New Zealand's traditional partners'; the United States, United Kingdom, Australia... and we're moving away from what has been called the Independent Foreign Policy which has really been New Zealand's strategy for the last 30 - 40 years."

That doesn't mean we are non-aligned, but it means our aim has been to try and build good relationships with all sides. 

"New Zealand did very well out of that strategy, particularly in the post-cold war period, when the focus was very much on trading relationships," says Miller.

In the last decade, that's switched to a greater focus on security. 

It's Peters' job to tread all these fine lines. 

Newsroom's National Affairs editor Sam Sachdeva says the 79-year-old Foreign Minister (it was his birthday yesterday) is handling the portfolio with an ever-present twinkle in his eye.
"As tetchy and pugilistic as he can be at home, he is pretty good as a statesman I think. 

"He has strong relationships, and part of that is his political longevity - he knows a lot of these people. He's been an enduring presence on the world stage."

Sachdeva says the fact that Peters is well-known helps to open doors and have discussions that we otherwise might not have.

"He seems to love it, a lot actually. You'd think once you've been around for a while and you've done it a few goes maybe you'd get sick of it, but I think he does enjoy glad-handing and speaking on the world stage. He seems invigorated by it if anything." 

Sachdeva is speaking in the wake of Peters' appearance at the United Nations where he delivered a strong speech on Gaza, in a 'serendipitous' 3.15pm timeslot after Russia, China, and the Palestinian representative. 

Although he didn't mention the United States by name, it was obvious he was calling it out over its use of the veto to cause a resolution on a ceasefire in Gaza to fail. 

"New Zealand is highly thought of when it comes to multi-lateral organisations like the UN," Sachdeva says. "When it comes to issues like the use of veto powers, which the debate that he spoke in was about, New Zealand's been outspoken about that for a long time. I think having that sort of credibility and background probably helps us to get a plum spot like that." 

Sachdeva describes the speech itself as "quite striking" and today on The Detail he explains why; as well as why trips such as this to the UN are important. 

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