“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.