Making way in a post-Covid world: Jacinda Ardern outlines her government's approach to foreign policy issues in the new era that will follow the pandemic.

AuthorArdern, Jacinda

It is a great pleasure to attend an event on such an important topic as New Zealand's future in the Indo-Pacific region. Thank you to the NZIIA for bringing this hui together. I am encouraged to see so many young New Zealanders present. But I am also not surprised. As a high school student, I was fascinated by global politics. And at university, it was not domestic politics I primarily studied--it was international relations.

In fact, I am not sure I have shared this with MFAT before, but as a student at Waikato University I recall one day seeing a flyer advertising the fact that representatives from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be on campus as part of their graduate recruitment programme. I took down the details and when the day arrived I joined literally hundreds of others as we piled into a fairly packed lecture theatre to hear about what it took to be a diplomat. This was some years ago, but while I cannot recall all that was said I do recall two very important words--double degree. I walked out of there and decided that the entry criteria were a little too high for me. Apparently, I did not apply that same logic to any of the roles I have taken on since.

Over the years it has struck me, though, how interested not just our young people but our nation is in the politics and decision-making of others. It is easy to assume that all countries would take the level of interest we do in global affairs--but in my experience they do not. How many other countries would, for instance, factor in the timing of another country's election in relation to our own? I am still convinced that the last two American elections probably captured people's attention to the same degree, if not more, than our own did.

I can think of two reasons why this level of global interest persists in New Zealand. The first is size. We have an acute sense of our place in the world. But the second is that we have all too often experienced the impact of others' decisions on us: the testing of nuclear weapons, dramatic changes in economic policy, war. We may be far from others, but we are not, and have never been, isolated from the impacts of global politics. And you can see this acute sense of self and others in the fundamentals of New Zealand's foreign policy.

Many of our current settings were established by Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who was instrumental in establishing the United Nations under some of the most challenging international conditions imaginable. He recognised, for instance, that a lasting peace depended on a successful United Nations that collectively protected the sovereignty and independence of small countries. Those fundamentals remain, and they have been further reinforced by successive global challenges.

We have entered an era of formidable environmental, health and geopolitical difficulties. And in this era, each nation is faced with choices. We either ignore the impact our domestic decisions have on others and choose a path of isolationism and nationalism or we take the view that concerted collective action is the necessary response.

Changed environment

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the environment in which we are making our foreign policy decisions has changed, but the values we use to make those decisions have not. I want to address that environment and how we steady our ship in what often feels like ever turbulent seas, with a particular focus on your area of interest--the Indo-Pacific. Where do we see our place in the world? If you were to ask me, I would give you a very literal answer: the Pacific. This is our home. It is the region we most squarely identify with. We very literally share a population base.

That is why, when we came into office, we focused immediately on lifting New Zealand's...

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