Removing one of the most underlying indefiniteness in New Zealand’s geostrategic-vision, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters affirms commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, in a speech in New Delhi.
Mr Peters was delivering the keynote address at the 32nd Sapru House lecture The Indo Pacific: From Principles to Partnership organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs – the New Delhi based premier Indian think tank on foreign policy and international relations.
It is important to note that for quite some time New Zealand has been reticent to let go its traditional preference, and rightly so, for “Asia-Pacific” and replace it with the newly emergent “Indo-Pacific” as a framework for regional order. This is despite several repeated enthusiastic articulations by New Zealand’s top-level foreign policy mandarins in support of the Indo-Pacific.
The geo-strategic term of Asia-Pacific that has underpinned the peace and prosperity in the region after the end of the Second World War largely corresponds to a trade-oriented geographic bridge that connects the peoples, lands and economies from both sides of the vast Pacific Ocean.
The “Indo-Pacific” on the other hand, is largely underpinned by a mutual desire to manage regional security challenges and the freedom of navigation in the vast stretches between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Given New Zealand’s position as a remotely located trading nation in the South Pacific with a matured advanced economy, the traditional preference towards the Asia-Pacific was only given.
However, with the fast-changing geopolitical realignment in the region, where some of New Zealand’s most trusted close partners (the United States and Australia) has been declaring their preference for the “Indo-Pacific” in favour of the “Asia-Pacific,” in no uncertain terms, there has been growing expectations within some quarters to put forward a similar unambiguous support for the Indo-Pacific.
In that regard coming from none other than the Foreign Minister himself who has famously announced New Zealand’s “Pacific reset” policy in March 2018, such an undiluted commitment to the Indo-Pacific region would go a long way in removing uncertainty around NZ’s strategic preferences, if any.
However, to put in perspective, in extending its support to India’s most favourite regional security architecture building project, New Zealand has also put forward a bold list of its own expectation from the South Asian giant, especially in terms of a full-fledged economic engagement, both bilaterally and regionally, along with a stepped-up role in the South Pacific region.
Mr Peters eloquently put forward NZ’s view that India not being part of the regional economic architecture (India has walked away from the talks on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) was neither in its strategic nor economic interests. Simultaneously, Mr Peters also made a case for India to step up its current level of engagement in the Pacific Islands.
Indeed, this was one of the most carefully orchestrated articulations of New Zealand’s support for the Indo-Pacific region, which, on the one hand buttresses India’s case for being an able regional security provider, does not in any way takes away anything from its own reputation of being a responsible international citizen with a strong mind of its own.
In fact, the timing of this “diplomatic blitzkrieg” in the far end of the “Indo-Pacific” theatre also coincided with the beaming images of none other than the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern herself foraying in South Pacific island nation of Fiji, extending unwavering support for peace, stability and climate change, removed any doubts that the current government was losing its sight away from the “Pacific reset.
Indeed, if both of these diplomatic visits were planned to coincide together to showcase New Zealand’s new geo-strategic vision from the Pacific to the Indo-Pacific, then it would not be anything less than a diplomatic novelty.
Regardless of any suggestion of successful orchestration of NZ’s top-level commitment to the two ends of the vast region between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean from two different countries roughly around the same time, full credit can be given to the government for its diplomatic outreach in the preceding week.