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Winston Peters to give major speech on foreign policy (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
Winston Peters to give major speech on foreign policy (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

The BulletinMay 1, 2024

Foreign minister speech tipped to shed light on Aukus involvement

Winston Peters to give major speech on foreign policy (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
Winston Peters to give major speech on foreign policy (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

Winston Peters has been keen to dismiss speculation on our involvement in Aukus but will give a speech tonight on the direction of our foreign policy, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Speech tipped to layout position on Aukus

Foreign minister Winston Peters will give a speech tonight that’s being tipped as laying out the government’s current position on Aukus. More specifically, whether or not New Zealand should join the non-nuclear technology-sharing aspects of Aukus, also known as Pillar II of the defence pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Aukus explainer here. Speaking to Newstalk’s Heather du Plessis-Allan, the Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan indicates Aukus will be covered and also says questions about Aukus may have been included in the recent 1New Verian poll (results yet to be released). The Herald’s Audrey Young also indicates (paywalled) that the speech will set out New Zealand’s position on Aukus. Young has also said (paywalled) that the statement put out after Peters’ meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken earlier this month suggests “New Zealand is in the middle of a seismic foreign policy shift.” New Zealand and the US “see powerful reasons for New Zealand engaging practically” with Aukus, the statement read.

Joining Aukus a ‘fait accompli’ — international affairs expert

The Post’s Thomas Manch has a very good rundown on what our involvement might look like, what we might gain and the ongoing uncertainty about when or how New Zealand might be involved. Aukus partners have already indicated Japan would be the next likely country to join, although no timeline has been given on that. Manch suggests Peters’ recent meetings with Blinken and Deputy Secretary Kurt Campbell (often described as the architect of Asia-Pacific policy for the US) mean he will have more to say about Aukus than he has in the past. Waikato University’s Alexander Gillespie told Manch that he thinks New Zealand joining Aukus is a fait accompli.

Aukus discussions: a timeline

As AUT’s Marco de Jong details, public discussions about New Zealand’s involvement in Aukus surfaced in March last year. However, documents obtained under the Official Information Act reveal conversations were happening here as early as September 2021. In March 2023, defence minister at the time, Andrew Little said the government was “willing to explore” joining the agreement. Chris Hipkins visited Australia in April 2023, where it’s said discussions about Aukus took place with Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese. Labour has since walked back its exploratory position on Aukus, leading to some concern about the breakdown of a non-partisan approach to foreign policy. The party hosted an Aukus conference last week where former prime minister Helen Clark, a vocal critic of joining Aukus on the basis that it signals an “undemocratic shift” in our independent foreign policy, attended along with Tuvalu’s former prime minister, Enele Sopoaga and former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr.

Pillar II no more than ‘fragrant, methane-wrapped bullshit’ – former Australian foreign minister

Helen Clark says Aukus is an agreement clearly aimed at China, our major trading partner. “China is a major power in our region. The US is a major power in our region. Our job, if we are maintaining an independent foreign policy, is to navigate both relationships and not act in ways which support polarisation and support a view that one side is driving tensions,” she says. Former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr described Pillar II as ‘fragrant, methane-wrapped bullshit’. The Aukus debate has raised questions about exactly what an independent foreign policy is. As the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan wrote (paywalled) after attending a diplomatic hui last November, “Nearly all countries have an independent foreign policy to a greater or lesser extent and it’s not always clear what there is about New Zealand’s foreign policy that would allow us to lay claim to being significantly more independent than anyone else.”

Toby, Ben and Annabelle also discussed the Aukus debate in the last episode of Gone by Lunchtime.

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