The potential participation of NZ in Pillar II of the Aukus agreement is a vital and necessary contribution to our security and to regional stability
Opinion: The recent announcement by Defence Minister Andrew Little that New Zealand is exploring participation in Pillar II of the Aukus technology partnership has given a fillip to an existing foreign policy discourse in Aotearoa.
Little’s intervention comes against a backdrop of public commentary from some former senior New Zealand politicians and academics who have taken what can be fairly described as a critical or sceptical stance on Aukus.
These views can be contrasted with an alternative group of politicians and academics who contend that Aukus is a considered and necessary response to a deteriorating international security environment.
The existence of differing views on foreign policy issues such as Aukus is welcome and healthy in a liberal democracy. If we aren’t discussing foreign policy issues in an election year, when will we be?
Wherever one stands in the discussion, it is clear New Zealand’s foreign policy environment has changed. The debate is over the response to that reality.
Advocates for a more forward-leaning approach to Aukus, which this opinion associates itself with, take the view that such a move is a necessary recalibration to reflect a dramatically changed international environment. This is an environment in which Russia has initiated the biggest land war on the European continent since 1945, and a historic movement in US policy toward China from one of ‘engagement’ to ‘strategic competition.’
Taiwan as a reminder
Reminders that our international environment has fundamentally changed keep occurring. A little more than a week ago, for the second time in nine months, Taiwan has been the focus of tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
On April 5, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, in California.
Beijing’s response was swift and sure. From April 8 to April 10, fighter jets and naval vessels were deployed for military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. The People’s Liberation Army issued a statement that “these operations serve as a stern warning against collusion between separatist forces seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and external forces and their provocative activities”.
Press the rewind button.
Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy’s predecessor as House Speaker, sparked a regional crisis by visiting Taiwan from August 2 to August 3 last year. After her visit, China cancelled diplomatic, military and climate policy exchanges with the US and held military exercises in seven live-fire zones around Taiwan.
The Pelosi and McCarthy meetings at once reflect and contribute to an increasingly contentious US-China relationship.
Aukus is an Australian response to a Chinese economic and diplomatic sanctions policy that began in 2020 and which continues to this day
After eight years of deteriorating relations during the Barack Obama administration, the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations settled on a policy of strategic competition with China.
Taiwan is now firmly entangled in this deteriorating great power relationship.
China views Taiwan the way the US would view Hawaii if it were independent from Washington and Honolulu’s independence was effectively underpinned by a rival power.
The significant difference for China is that while the US has a free hand in the Western hemisphere, the same generalisation does not apply to China in the Indo-Pacific. US foreign policy clearly seeks to blunt China’s military power projection ability. Washington also aims to defend its leadership of the existing international order in the Indo-Pacific.
This is a regional and international order that New Zealand has thrived under and has consistently stated its commitment to upholding.
Aukus brings balance to New Zealand’s foreign policy
This brings us back to Aukus. After the Aukus leaders’ summit in San Diego last month, Aukus now constitutes an increasingly central component of the international order in the Indo-Pacific.
It is critically important to understand its origins. The trilateral advanced technology sharing partnership was proposed not by the US or the UK, but by our sole treaty ally, Australia. Formalised in September 2021, Aukus is an Australian response to a Chinese economic and diplomatic sanctions policy that began in 2020 and which continues to this day.
A foreign policy that is overly focused on improving relations with China and does not invest sufficiently in our relationship with Australia and the US is unbalanced
Lest we forget, in November 2020, the Chinese ambassador to Australia passed on to the Australian media, a list of “fourteen grievances” it had with the Morrison government’s China policy. This prompted Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister at the time, to declare that Australia’s values, democracy, and sovereignty were “not up for sale”.
Why should New Zealand risk potential entanglement in these issues by engaging in Pillar II of Aukus? There is no such thing as a risk-free foreign policy. Balancing risks is central to our independent foreign policy.
But not engaging more directly in Aukus is more of a risk than its critics or sceptics appreciate. As University of Waikato academic Reuben Steff has argued, non-involvement in Aukus will block us off from access to critical cutting-edge technologies. It will also probably cause our role in the Five Eyes intelligence grouping to significantly diminish over time, and possibly even end.
On the positive side of the ledger, one can add that New Zealand’s participation will have the salutary effect of adding a necessary balance to New Zealand’s foreign policy.
Though multilateral international institutions and progressive values have their place in New Zealand foreign policy, we now need to accord greater attention to a ‘foundational triangle’ of bilateral relationships. These are represented by our relationship with China (our leading trade partner), Australia (our only treaty ally), and the US (the linchpin of security in the Indo-Pacific since 1945).
In this understanding of New Zealand’s foreign policy, major improvements in our relationship with China (such as the upgrading of our free trade agreement in April 2022) must be balanced by corresponding improvements in our relationship with Australia and the US.
Conversely, a foreign policy that is overly focused on improving relations with China and does not invest sufficiently in our relationship with Australia and the US is unbalanced, and is the opposite of the spirit and substance of an independent foreign policy.
Viewed in this way, Defence Minister Andrew Little’s recent Aukus announcement should be welcomed as a vital and necessary contribution to New Zealand’s security and to regional stability.
Source : NewsRoom