Ardern heading West on foreign policy

Geoffrey Miller writes:

Jacinda Ardern is slowly but surely shifting New Zealand’s foreign policy towards the West.

That was the underlying theme of a keynote address by New Zealand’s prime minister this week.

Ardern mentioned China only once by name when she spoke to the US business summit in Auckland on Monday, but Beijing was clearly on her mind throughout the 3000-word address.

Some of the hardest-hitting passages came early in the speech and appeared deliberately indirect and oblique, leaving it up to listeners to make up their own minds on the intended likely target of the PM’s words.

For example, Ardern said New Zealand had “held firmly to our independent foreign policy but also to our values. When we see a threat to the rules-based order we rely on, we act.”

While most people would immediately think of New Zealand’s recent moves against Russia – which Ardern discussed in subsequent parts of the speech – the lack of specificity of these initial remarks also allowed for more liberal interpretations involving China.

I hope this is correct. It is clear that we have been disastrously wrong that trading with Russia and China would make them more benign.

Of course, all of Ardern’s indirectness and obliqueness was not without good reason and she would be fully aware of the sensitivities. With a third of New Zealand’s exports heading to China every year, Wellington can ill afford to get offside with Beijing.

Indeed, until last year, Wellington thought that it had found a way to thread the needle and balance the competing interests of China and the US. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has forced New Zealand to align itself more closely with the West.

This new position understandably carries a degree of unfamiliarity and awkwardness for New Zealand policymakers, who had been quite happy with the status quo.

The status quo is now untenable. New Zealand needs to reduce it dependency on China quickly. By that I don’t mean tariffs or the like, but reducing barriers with the US, EU, Canada etc.

Comments (77)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment