Thursday, May 19, 2022

The five big foreign policy challenges for New Zealand in 2022 – Stuff.co.nz

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Covid-19 has forced us into retreat, global supply lines are strained and there is the prospect of military conflicts in Asia. The foreign policy challenges in the year ahead are only getting bigger. National Correspondent Lucy Craymer reports.
The unclassified-version of the New Zealand Defence Assessment​ released last month​ lays out a worrying set of security challenges.
Increasing tension between China and Taiwan with the potential for military conflict. Maritime incidents and tensions in the South and East China Seas. North Korea nuclear and missile development, and conflicts in and through space and cyberspace.
But outside of security risks there is also economic, environmental, diplomatic and social challenges to keep our foreign policy officers and government occupied this year.
Here then, in no particular order, are five foreign policy (loosely defined) challenges facing Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022. (And yes, the author is aware that there is significant cross over between challenges.)
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Five foreign policy challenges? “China, China, China, China and China,” says David Capie,​director of the Centre for Strategic Studies and professor of International Relations at Victoria University.
The challenge is multifaceted and in some cases not just as simple as China.
China’s treatment of Uyghur in Xinjiang, ​its behaviour in the South China Sea and its crushing of Hong Kong’s democracy movement have all raised concern in Wellington. At times, it has stood with partners to condemn actions and at other times it has been conspicuously absent from statements made by traditional allies.
”The relationship between China and the US over the next 12 months is going to be fundamental to a whole set of other challenges that New Zealand face,” says Capie.
To date, New Zealand has successfully navigated a route where relations with China – particularly in terms of trade – are solid, while voicing some concerns.
However, that is getting more difficult. Commentators say New Zealand is going to face increasing pressure to fall in line with Australia, the US and other traditional friends and make stronger statements when it disagrees with China’s behaviour.
At the same time, China’s actions are becoming more brazen and it’s military more powerful, making it harder for New Zealand to ignore.
This is something Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has recognised. In mid-2021 she noted that the differences between the two countries were “becoming harder to reconcile” and there were “no guarantees” inside the relationship.
Robert Patman,​ a professor of International Relations at the University of Otago, says New Zealand, as a small trading nation, relies on an international rules based system and any threat to that – whether it is China in the South China Sea, or Russia-Ukraine border tensions – will need to be responded to.
“We really need a stable environment, we also need a rules-based order,” says Patman.
On the global stage, climate change is set to become more prominent. Events such as the recent tornado that ripped through parts of the US continue to highlight the impact climate change is having right now.
Patman says New Zealand’s large agricultural sector is incredibly reliant on stable weather and so the country has a big stake in getting the world on board with policy changes and commitments to counter climate change.
New Zealand needs to use foreign policy to nudge friends and allies towards making commitments, but it also needs to keep talking to countries like China to get them to do their bit, says Patman.
“No one country can solve it alone,” he adds.
New Zealand is also going to have to be ready to respond to natural disasters that befall our neighbours. The Pacific region is facing an average to worse than average cyclone season, according to NIWA.
Unfortunately, when the clock ticked over on December 31, Covid-19 did not magically disappear.
Analysts, however, struggle to pinpoint how governments will respond because of the quickly evolving situation. One thing they do agree on, is that it makes the diplomatic landscape more difficult.
There is ongoing need for global vaccine equity. Just 1 in 10 people​ in low income countries have been vaccinated compared with more than 67 per cent​ of those in high income countries, according to United Nations data. The World Health Organisation says improved vaccine equity would hasten the end of the pandemic.
At the same time, after nearly two years, New Zealand is tentatively looking to reopen its border. (Although plans to do so have already been delayed by the emergence of the Omicron variant.)
“The biggest issue is going to be around the art of reconnecting,” says Suzannah Jessep,​ director of Research and Engagement at Asia New Zealand Foundation.
As a reasonably small, distant maritime state that relies on exports, including tourism and international education, industry and business really need to reconnect with the world, Jessep says.
“It should be a survival mechanism to get back out into the world and start remaking these connections.
“It’s also a chance to sort of revise the connections in some way and be rebuilding in a way that’s smart.”
Furthermore, New Zealand relies on these connections to maintain its place on the world stage and in people’s consciousness. There have already been indications the government is well aware of this – with the foreign minister undertaking a seven country tour in November and Climate Change Minister James Shaw attending COP26.
“If you’re missing, you start to drop of their radar, people start to forget about your interests and issues and move on,” says Capie.
Jessep says because of New Zealand’s reliance on trade, it’s inter-related with foreign policy.
Trade – and the risk to our export sector – has to be added to the list for several reasons. Covid has disrupted logistics and supply chains around the globe. Exporters and importers are facing skyrocketing shipping costs and there is an ongoing fear New Zealand could drop off shipping routes, making the challenge even worse.
The Ministry of Transport is developing a freight and supply chain strategy. Short term, though, shipping is largely privately-owned, so few diplomatic solutions are on offer.
The potential slowing of larger economies could impact New Zealand’s own economy.
Growth in China slowed in the third quarter of the year to 4.9 per cent​ due to power shortages, supply chain issues and moves by Beijing to rein in the country’s real estate and technology sectors. And in 2022, the US will potentially start hiking interest rates. If this happens, it will have a flow-through effect to global economies, including New Zealand’s.
Natasha Hamilton-Hart, professor at the University of Auckland Business School, says a slowdown in any of our export markets will definitely affect New Zealand, particularly as it’s unlikely to see a recovery in tourism or education sectors in 2022.
She adds another concern is the growth in market protection measures.
Both Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare have recently emphasised New Zealand’s priority to be the Pacific in both foreign policy and security terms.
Covid-19 has been tough on the economies of our Pacific neighbours. Closed borders meant no tourist dollars, and it cut opportunities for Pacific workers to travel to Australia and New Zealand for seasonal jobs. Supply chain issues were even worse for these countries, making it harder for them to export goods.
Getting Pacific economies back on their feet and stopping them taking on more debt – a worry highlighted by Mahuta – will be crucial.
And then there is China’s growing influence in the region. Commentators say if New Zealand wants a stable environment, it’s going to need to step up and be more present in the region. The country sent troops and police to the Solomon Islands last month.
At the same time, climate change and the growing number of severe weather events pose an unknown risk that New Zealand will have to respond to.
“New Zealand needs to deepen its commitment to the Pacific,” says Patman.
© 2021 Stuff Limited

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