New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern cautioned against a ‘black and white’ approach to diplomacy in a wide-ranging speech on foreign policy yesterday.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, the New Zealand prime minister outlined three key values underlying New Zealand’s foreign policy: a sense of global collaboration, a moral responsibility to maintain rules-based order, and the country’s sense of place in the Pacific region.
Ardern remarked that the common ground of those values naturally leads to a friendship between New Zealand and Australia, calling the two countries ‘cousins’.
On the war on Ukraine, Ardern did not hesitate to describe it both as illegal and immoral, although cautioned against viewing the conflict through a ‘West versus Russia’ lens or a ‘democracy vs autocracy’ lens.
“In the wake of the tensions we see rising, including in our Indo-Pacific region, our diplomacy must become the strongest tool and de-escalation the loudest call.
“We won’t succeed, however, if those parties we seek to engage with are increasingly isolated and the region we inhibit becomes increasingly divided and polarised. We must not allow the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy to become an inevitable outcome for our region,” Ardern said.
When questioned about what Australia and New Zealand could have done in regards to the Solomon Islands and China, Ardern was quick to point out the Pacific nation’s right to make its own decisions.
“The assumption the Solomon Islands doesn’t have its own sovereign right to make decisions around its own engagement in connection with other states and obviously, they do.
“I would argue that yes [in this region] we have long, deep relationships. China has quite longstanding relationships in the Pacific too. The Solomon Islands in 2019 flipped their recognition from Taiwan to China. Who are we to argue with that when New Zealand itself holds a one-China policy?” the prime minister asked.
However, Ardern did mention her country has concerns about the path toward militarisation, that a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands could lead to.
The dangers of the online space were touched on as well, with Ardern acknowledging both Russian cyberattacks and misinformation during the war, and the difficulties of addressing the path to radicalisation within online content.
Ending on a lighter note, when asked how she manages the expectations of her government, Ardern illustrated the importance of optimism during times that are seemingly unprecedented.
“The alternative is to instead speak without any ambition, or without any sense of hope and ambition,” Ardern commented. “If that means it creates an expectation on us, then — good. People should have an expectation of their politicians, that they’re always striving for better.
“What we have to be honest about, though, is that change takes time.”
Ardern added she sought to make ‘change that sticks’ by bringing as many people as possible with her to enact transformational change.