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Nanaia Mahuta – Peacebroker

Written By: - Date published: 6:07 pm, December 16th, 2020 - 22 comments
Categories: australian politics, China, culture, human rights, Maori Issues, Nanaia Mahuta, us politics - Tags:

“Do I believe that there might be an opportunity for New Zealand to create a different environment and have a conversation? Yes, I do.” Nanaia Mahuta told Reuters on Tuesday the country would be willing to help negotiate a truce between neighbouring Australia and regional heavyweight China, who are caught in an escalating trade and diplomatic spat.

That’s a fresh approach and a welcome one. There was some scoffing from Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon this morning when talking to their Australian correspondent, but it was certainly noticed around the world, and especially in Asia. New Zealand will host the APEC conference next year.

This possibility was recently raised by Alexander Gillespie from Waikato University, saying New Zealand was perfectly placed to broker a truce between China and the Five Eyes alliance. He was rather more ambitious, suggesting that New Zealand could invite Joe Biden and Xi Jinping  to meet in New Zealand. He said of this latest initiative “There is no guarantee that getting the two sides to sit down and talk calmly will work. It would be a very, very, long road ahead – but it would be heading in a different direction to where we are currently going.”

Others who have had the same idea for a progressive and peace-making role for New Zealand are the New Zealand Alternative, whose 2018  publication “Aotearoa New Zealand and conflict prevention: Building a truly independent foreign policy” suggested the formation of a conflict prevention unit within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Reuters reported thus about Nanaia Mahuta:

The first indigenous Maori woman to hold the post, Mahuta highlighted New Zealand’s “whakapapa” or kinship connections that go back to the Asia region. “That enables us to navigate our relations with China perhaps a little differently than other countries,” she said.

Mahuta said she sees her position as an opportunity to create a different type of dialogue in the foreign affairs space, and she has had conversations with other women in foreign offices in other countries about common issues such as the role of women in society, gender equality and the environment.

“I have a perspective that is intergenerational, that’s born out of culture, that’s firmly drawing on the context of New Zealand which hasn’t been altogether smooth if you think about the way in which indigenous issues have been addressed here and our history of colonisation,” she said.

The MFAT briefing to the incoming Minister notes that the world has changed, and that old certainties can no longer be taken for granted. They may find that applies to their own culture. In the 2017 briefing to the Minister regional references were to the Asia Pacific; in 2020 they are all to the Indo-Pacific, a loaded term much preferred by the US and Australia.  Mahuta expects New Zealand’s chairing of the Asia Pacific Economic council next year to provide the opportunity for Aotearoa/New Zealand leadership and the peace-broking dialogue.

It is very refreshing that Mahuta brings a set of values to New Zealand’s diplomacy that don’t come from the anglophone culture of FiveEyes, and that have more in common in many ways with the values of Asia which are family-oriented, and base their approach to human rights more on the common good than individual preference.

22 comments on “Nanaia Mahuta – Peacebroker ”

  1. Anne 1

    If anyone could do it, Nanaia Mahuta can. She has all of the character qualifications and the mana that goes with her high born status within the indigenous population. She poses no threat to anyone and will earn their respect for her shrewd insight together with a refreshing openness and honesty.

    She is the most under-rated politician in NZ and has been for a long time.

  2. Lettuce 2

    Sure, let's just turn a blind eye to the slavery and genocide that's occurring in Xinjiang right now, so we can keep on selling more dirty dairy to China:



    After all, we've been letting the Israelis get away committing ethnic cleansing in Palestine for the last 70 years without them having to face any consequences for their actions, right?

    • Simbit 2.1

      You're not wrong Lettuce. Trouble is the Chinese, and the Israelis, and anyone else we wanna lecture can always cite Taika Waititi on NZ racism, or Nicky Hager on NZ war crimes. If they wanted to be really smug, they'd quote the bible, the bit about the motes and logs…

    • weka 2.2

      Do you think Mahuta's approach will lessen or increase the likelihood of addressing China's human rights problems?

      • Lettuce 2.2.1

        I think Nanaia Mahuta will be about as effective a John Key was with his "smile and wave" policy if she decides to follow something similar herself. Of course our precious minimum wage horticultural exporters and dirty dairy farmers will be delighted.

  3. kejo 3

    I believe that Nanaia was interviewed on Aljezzera. Can anyone provide a link to that ? Regards, Keith

  4. vto 5

    Big move

    Bloody excellent move

    Nanaia is a star

    Together with the other female leaders traipsing the global stage these days, and showing a different way of going about things, it feels a new paradigm is slowly arising. All power to these women (but don't leave us men in the dust haha…).

  5. Ad 6

    It takes a fair bit of self confidence to propose yourself as a primary diplomat between the two countries we are most vulnerable to.

    New Zealand gets diplomatic respect for being one of the originators of CPTPP, right on ground zero for RCEP, the first to do a free trade deal with China, and an impeccably integrated partner with Australia.

    Which is all very punch-above-our-weight lovely.

    But I think it would have been better to wait for the Biden administration to start up and make its China stance clear before we started making promises. Australia is the US's most loyal Pacific ally. Australia is now one axis of the US-China see-saw. Under that weight we would be turned into mince faster than you can say ANZUS.

    • Mike Smith 6.1

      Well the good news is we don't have to say ANZUS since 1985 when formal treaty obligations were ended over our principled opposition to nuclear arms in our waters. We also didn't join the "coalition of the willing" to invade Iraq in 2003. US claims against Saddam Hussein were later proved to be spurious.

      In my opinion few in Aotearoa/New Zealand appreciate how Covid has changed the power relations in the world. Biden will have enough on his plate coping with the US' massive internal problems, and all the talk of the US renewing the leadership of the so-called "free world" will not play that well at home, much less abroad.

      Meanwhile China is forging ahead, and is dealing some hard lessons in shirt-fronting to Australia. As a former boxer I know that footwork is as important as weight of punch, and Australia may well come to appreciate the value of a side-step.

      I have seen Nanaia Mahuta in action; she is a principled, experienced and highly skilled negotiator. She could help.

    • Sanctuary 6.2

      This recent Atlantic article contains an interesting bit of information which may help us interpret the Chinese attempts to bully Australia – they are trying to forestall, via economic coercion, the formal creation of a solid anti-Chinese bloc:

      "…So far, though, China’s policy is achieving the opposite: not merely alienating foreign governments, but possibly driving them together. For instance, a loose partnership known as “the Quad,” comprising four countries with grievances toward and concerns about China—Australia, India, Japan, and the United States—could be coalescing into a more formal anti-China bloc in Asia. The foreign ministers of the four nations met in Tokyo in early October and China was a topic of discussion, especially with firebrand U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the room. Such budding coalitions ring alarm bells in Beijing. “China still believes that under most circumstances, it can divide and conquer,” Glaser added, “but it does have some concern today of the potential for countries to come together to work against China…”


      • Ad 6.2.1

        China seems to be doing a real job offending most countries anywhere near it – we can read the media stories of the last 3 years in Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and more.

        It's still got some hard core allies in Iran and Russia, and a few of the minor Stans. And it's bought a few mates in Sri Lanka and the Ethiopes.

        But they are playing one of the very worst "diplomacy" efforts I've ever seen or studied.

  6. weka 7

    so good to have some news of things being done well, thanks for this post.

  7. RedLogix 8

    A bold move given that Chinese diplomats are not even answering Australian PM's phone calls at the moment. The general consensus is that Xi Xinping's regime has decided to 'make an example' of Australia, so it's hard to understand exactly what NZ can offer in that context.

    Still if nothing else how this turns out will provide some useful insights into the CCP's motives.

    • Incognito 8.1

      Reasonable mature people have conversations and listen to others.

      Unreasonable immature people have tantrums and take the phone off the hook.

      It seems Trump may not have been to only one throwing tanties.

      You’d expect more from World Leaders.

    • Sanctuary 8.2

      I am willing to bet a few shekels Xi Xinping won't be around in a few years. His Maoist/Nationalist tendencies are not popular with a big section of the CCP or (most importantly) the PLA, and China is discovering it's artless diplomatic bullying is having economic consequences for China's economy. Ultimately, China needs the world more than the world needs China. After all, if China continues to use trade to bully people countries will simply find markets elsewhere and crucially, the world will build it's factories somewhere else as well.

      The likely catalyst for Xi Xinping's removal will be an attempt by him to provoke a nice little war to distract from internal issues (maybe with India, perhaps Taiwan or even Vietnam or Japan, the list of people China has picked a fight with in recent years is alarmingly long) that will see his removal as saner heads prevail and China steps back from the brink.

      • RedLogix 8.2.1

        Ultimately, China needs the world more than the world needs China.

        That is so true. The modern China that has progressed so much in the past 4 decades was only possible in the post WW2 US led trade order. It was only possible in a world where it could trade freely, where ships were guaranteed freedom of navigation, where there was a defacto global currency, and a system of commercial, banking and trade rules. (None of this was perfect, but it was way better than anything that came before.)

        And now the US, the one nation which made it all possible, is losing interest in making the system work anymore. Trump may have been a chaotic barbarian, but Biden if anything has been even more more hawkish on China.

        As to whether Xi Xingping will be toppled by more moderate internal factions; yes I very much hope so. But then again looking back at the trajectory of similar 20th century totalitarian figures (Hitler, Stalin. Mao, etc) all the precedents go the other way.

        It would be a remarkable thing to see the CCP internally correct in such a fashion.

        • Scud


          Just a quick while I'm the laptop,

          I fully agree to both Red and Sanctuary's comments. This is either going to work, but its a really big asked for China to climb down from its 14 points that it released to the media without losing face and we need to remember face is a really a big part of the Asian Culture.

          The other is that China could very well do a Neville Chamberlain on NZ, when poor old Neville returned to London when he had his presser at the airport " Proclaiming we have Peace in our time but only for Herr Hitler to ripe up the agreement signed by old mate Neville and himself in Sep 39.

          Which could very well happen with Xi running the show in China.

  8. RedBaronCV 9

    Don't we have enough problems of our own without getting involved in a tricky situation all around and devoting our resources to it? Is it likely that we will get the same treatment at some stage? We have already had some minor instances of this type of “displeasure”. We’d be better off moving gently away and engaging with the rest of SE Asia surely.

    As to CPTPP and RCEP and the China free trade agreement being good wins – not so sure about any of that. If it had stuck to actual goods movement with equivalent labour health and safety standards maybe but extending it benefit corporations, being unable to change domestic policy settings and quasi recolonisation nah

  9. SPC 10

    The offer of mediation seems to have been rejected. So it would be unwise to pursue it.

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