International solutions: Ian McGibbon reports on the NZIIA's recent National Conference.

AuthorMcGibbon, Ian

The NZIIA's National Conference 'International Solutions: Aotearoa New Zealand's Place in a Troubled World' was held in the Pullman Hotel in Auckland on 8 June with 251 in attendance and about 30 zoomed in, capably marshalled by Icon Event Management. More than 40 speakers took part in keynote addresses and panel discussions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Centres for Asia Pacific Excellence were the primary sponsors with additional contributions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, the EU Delegation in New Zealand and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

In welcoming participants, NZIIA President Dr Richard Grant alluded to the 'troubled world [that] looked more complicated than anything New Zealand has faced'. Russia's aggression in 'complete violation' of the UN Charter was a challenge to the rule of law and had put commitment to fundamental principles at risk. Grant also noted rising tension in the Asia-Pacific region, which was of especial concern to New Zealand. The troubled part of the theme was obvious, he suggested, but solutions were not so apparent.

The conference then began with keynote addresses by Nanaia Mahuta, the foreign minister, and Fiji's Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka. (The texts of their speeches are to be found elsewhere in this issue.) Outside the keynote addresses, of which there were four, the conference proceeded on the basis of panel discussions in two streams. The first of these included a session on 'Indo-Pacific competition, confrontation, or collaboration?' moderated by Dr Manjeet Pardesi, an associate professor of international relations at Victoria University of Wellington.

Zooming in from Canberra Dr Bryce Wakefield, the national executive director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, began by looking at definitions of IndoPacific, which the 2000 Australian Defence white paper had described as Australia's geostrategic area of interest. He reviewed the origins of the Quad, which went as far back as the 2003 Indian Ocean tsunami, but noted that the term had only really taken off in 2016. Other powers had then taken up the Indo-Pacific concept but not all were happy with it. Wakefield pointed to the reticence of ASEAN members, who feared that it would detract from the ASEAN centrality concept. There was also a complication arising from Pacific identity, with Pacific Islands states sceptical of the Indo-Pacific concept because they preferred to focus on the Blue Pacific. This in turn added to New Zealand's ambivalence, which derived in part from fear that its voice would be drowned out by great powers and scepticism of AUKUS. Wakefield suggested that New Zealand policy-makers should be paying especial attention to Australian opinion; notably, a recent strategic review had referred to New Zealand as merely 'an important partner in the Pacific'.

Dr Luqman-Nul Hakim, the director of the Institute of International Studies at Indonesia's Universitas Gadjah Mada, provided an ASEAN perspective. He noted that a 'decisive moment' had been reached with the unipolar world now under challenge. Many South-east Asian countries wanted to avoid having to choose sides in the evolving great power contest. Instead, they wanted to ensure 'ASEAN centrality'. As the old order dies, competition is inevitable. Hakim highlighted the importance of understanding not only great power interests but also the youth viewpoint, for government definitions often neglected the peoples' voice. Comprising more than half the population of ASEAN, youth needed economic stability, not war, according to Hakim. They should be empowered in the shaping of the dynamic of the Indo-Pacific. Security should not be allowed to dominate in this process. Western governments needed to invest more in human development, rather than enhanced military capacity. A balancing definition of the Indo-Pacific was needed, focused on economic rather than military aspects.

Ambassador Marc Abenseur, France's ambassador for the Indo-Pacific, provided a French and European perspective on the Indo-Pacific concept. He noted that it had two dimensions: the flows that connect the two oceans and the geopolitical. A dozen countries had a similar approach based on these dimensions. The key question was how to address the challenge of China's growing assertiveness. Abenseur assured the audience that French/European interest in Indo-Pacific region would remain as high as before the Ukraine War, and possibly increase. He made two observations. First, it was important not to think only in terms of strategic alignment. Indo-Pacific strategy was integrally linked with strategy regarding China, but more emphasis should be placed on economic security, to reduce dependence on China while at the same time preserving partnership with that country, which was important for things like climate change counter-measures. A positive agenda was needed to deal with regional problems like illegal fishing, build capacity and contest the Chinese narrative regarding the global south. Second, there was a need for an agenda to foster development across the Pacific. This included maritime security. Practical actions included the deployment of patrol boats and strong co-operation with the Forum Fisheries Agency. There was a need to extend EU programmes to the Pacific to...

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