New Zealand--Japan relations in uncertain times: Bethan Greener examines the way ahead for New Zealand in dealing with a designated key future partner.

AuthorGreener, B.K.

New Zealand and Japan are both seeking to map out foreign policy paths through an increasingly complicated geopolitical swamp. Chinas influence is ascendant and, particularly under a Trump administration, the United States is an increasingly reluctant actor in the region. Foreign policy statements suggest that Japan is seeking to ensure that the United States stays engaged in the region to help to contain and balance against China. For New Zealand, there is still an emphasis on multilateralism whilst hoping to maintain positive relations with all major powers. Despite this divergence there remain some useful opportunities for increasing bilateral or multilateral engagement between the two countries, particularly in supporting regional and global architecture in formal diplomatic settings as well as through various sites of 'low' diplomatic practice.

There are a number of major players increasing their engagement in regional politics--whether we draw that region as the South Pacific, the Asia-Pacific or the 'Indo-Pacific'. Recognising that there are a range of actors seeking increased influence in their foreign affairs is an important first step in knowing how to proceed. Both New Zealand (in the 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement) and Japan (in its 2018 National Defence Programme Guidelines) clearly note the multiplicity of actors seeking to increase foreign policy engagement. This creates opportunities and risks as these different actors are seeking to instil or support different world orders.

In addition to the declining US-led international order (which is under threat from a number of quarters, including rising populism, xenophobia and economic protectionism, amongst other factors), it is not yet entirely clear as to what sort of order China will seek to promote, nor where ASEAN will figure, nor how concepts like the Free and Open Indo-Pacific will be made manifest. However, again simply recognising that there are alternative world orders operating concurrently and coterminously is a useful exercise.

In this multiple-world-orders-coexisting scenario, it seems clear that Japan has chosen where it will place all its efforts. Policy documents and public speeches, including on-going bilateral trade talks to improve relations in an era where Japan is in and the United States is out of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), demonstrate that Japan is working hard to keep the United States...

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