Nanaia under pressure

Geoffrey Miller writes:

As a new “Great Game” for control of the Pacific escalates, New Zealand’s foreign minister is coming under pressure from all sides.

For those keeping score, China has now signed co-operation agreements with Samoa and Kiribati, while the US has convinced Fiji to join its new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).

It’s staggering that we learn through the media that Samoa and China have signed an agreement. This is a huge diplomatic failure.

In New Zealand, foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta was left to respond to the developments from the bigger players – and to fend off volleys of criticism from New Zealand’s former foreign and diplomats over her perceived inaction. …

While defenders of Mahuta might write off criticism from Brownlee and Peters as standard partisan fare, the views of the former New Zealand diplomats are harder to ignore.

Marion Crawshaw, a former New Zealand diplomat with extensive Pacific experience gained in postings to Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), tweeted: “Maintaining the ability to follow our own path in the Pacific has always required focus, attention & careful prioritisation. The need right now is for a visible lift to our attention & [relationships] right across the Pacific.”

For her part, Suzannah Jessep, a former New Zealand deputy high commissioner to India now working for the New Zealand Foundation, wrote: “Feels weird that the Chinese foreign minister is visiting the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, PNG, and East Timor, but NZ has hardly done any ministerial in-person diplomacy. Hard to argue that the Pacific is our priority.”

And another former senior New Zealand diplomat, Nicola Hill, tweeted that Jacinda Ardern was offering “word salad diplomacy on the global stage at a critical moment about China in the Pacific” that was “incoherent”.

Like Jessep, Hill also highlighted inconsistency in New Zealand’s face-to-face diplomacy: “How often does New Zealand’s MFA [Minister of Foreign Affairs] visit PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu or Kiribati? A flurry of visits in 2019.”

Diplomats tend to be, well diplomatic. For three senior former diplomats to speak out, shows how bad they think things are.

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