New Zealand’s protection minister, Peeni Henare, has had a really busy first half of the yr.
In January, Henare was the face of New Zealand’s aid effort to Tonga, following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha’apai volcano.
Then, from March onwards, Henare was usually concerned in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s bulletins of army assist for Ukraine. The Government initially determined to produce solely defensive (or “non-lethal”) tools to Kyiv, which took the type of physique armor, helmets, and vests. Cabinet initially declined a request by Henare for New Zealand to additionally provide “lethal aid” weaponry to Ukraine – however that call was all of the sudden reversed in early April.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, tensions between China and the West have additionally escalated within the Indo-Pacific. The elevated concentrate on “hard security” in New Zealand’s neighborhood has solely strengthened Henare’s function additional.
The protection minister’s first journey exterior New Zealand was to Fiji in late March. The end result was a “Statement of Intent” pledging stronger protection ties between Suva and Wellington. Per week later, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta herself travelled to Fiji to signal a broader “Duavata Partnership,” which promised “a new level of expanded strategic cooperation” between Suva and Wellington.
Given the following debate over China’s curiosity in its personal safety preparations with Pacific nations – particularly Solomon Islands – a bit of the Duavata Partnership that guarantees better cooperation between Fiji and New Zealand on cybersecurity, protection, and policing appears significantly vital.
The Pacific stays the main target throughout Henare’s present journey to Asia.
On Saturday, Henare spoke on a panel on “Climate Security and Green Defense” on the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Of course, within the present geopolitical local weather, nothing is ever because it appears – and Henare’s contribution primarily served as simply one other alternative to emphasize the strategic significance of the Pacific area and justify New Zealand’s involvement.
If this wanted to be underlined, Henare obliged together with his opening remarks on the protection ministers’ summit, which included the road “our security and well-being are intrinsically bound to the peace and stability of our region.”
With his first in-person multilateral assembly underneath his belt, Henare now heads to Seoul for a three-day bilateral go to.
Much like Ardern’s determination to model her current abroad journeys as “trade missions,” the official reasoning given for Henare’s go to to South Korea most likely understates its significance.
The authorities says the principle motive for Henare’s journey is to test on New Zealand troops deployed there and to acknowledge the contribution of the 6,000 New Zealand troopers who served within the Korean War. This is, in fact, an vital and worthy motive for a go to – however it’s removed from the one one.
2022 marks the sixtieth anniversary of diplomatic ties between Wellington and Seoul – and bilateral relations could also be about to step up a gear.
South Korea is New Zealand’s fifth-biggest export market, placing it behind solely China, Australia, the United States, and Japan in significance. This statistic alone makes it overdue for a go to by a senior New Zealand minister.
But there may be extra to it than that. Like New Zealand, South Korea is presently edging its overseas coverage towards the West. This is even supposing China is South Korea’s greatest export market and two-way buying and selling companion – one other parallel with New Zealand, which sends 33 p.c of its exports to China.
Seoul has additionally had one other very specific motive to maintain on good phrases with China – the affect Beijing holds over unpredictable Pyongyang. Already this yr, North Korea has undertaken a record-breaking variety of missile assessments – 31 in whole – and seems to be extra harmful than ever.
Despite this, South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk Yeol is in search of to broaden his nation’s overseas coverage ambitions past the Korean Peninsula, in a bid to develop into what he calls a “global pivotal state.”
Yoon, a conservative, narrowly received energy in South Korea’s presidential election held in March. But there have been indicators of modifications even within the final days of the five-year time period of Yoon’s extra liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Moon initially tried to keep away from inserting South Korea’s personal sanctions on Russia – a stance additionally initially taken by New Zealand – earlier than giving into stress and becoming a member of the sanctions membership just a few days later.
The determination made South Korea certainly one of solely a handful of Asian economies to impose sanctions on Russia. Two of the others are Singapore and Japan, which Ardern herself visited on the finish of April.
The shift on sanctions made by Moon – who visited New Zealand in late 2018 – intently echoed New Zealand’s personal new calculations. Ardern was initially reluctant to impose sanctions to keep away from setting a precedent that might irritate China. But as she confronted stress domestically and from Western companions, Ardern quickly modified course and launched the groundbreaking Russia Sanctions Act.
The similarities don’t cease there.
Last month, Yoon hosted U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul and the pair issued a joint assertion that cited a number of delicate China-related points – such because the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait – in addition to the North Korea menace.
Unlike New Zealand, South Korea is a staunch U.S. ally, so it may appear outstanding that New Zealand’s personal current joint assertion with the United States – issued after Ardern met Biden within the White House – is much more hawkish and detailed in relation to criticism of China.
This is a threat. Beijing has already verbally expressed disapproval at New Zealand’s obvious alignment with the U.S., and extra substantive repercussions could but emerge.
But for now, New Zealand and South Korea are forging broadly comparable overseas coverage paths that see them working extra intently with different Western companions.
Neither nation is a member of the Quad grouping of China hawks – an association involving Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. – however each New Zealand and South Korea (together with Vietnam) have been a part of a trialed “Quad Plus” format that might at all times be revived and expanded.
Moreover, each New Zealand and South Korea are amongst simply 4 nations from the Indo-Pacific – the others are Australia and Japan – to be invited to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders’ summit in Spain on the finish of June. Ardern has but to formally affirm her attendance on the Madrid assembly, however Mahuta already attended a NATO overseas ministers’ assembly just about in April. NATO is clearly eager to convey New Zealand and South Korea – which it calls Asia-Pacific companions – extra intently into its orbit.
Both Seoul and Wellington have additionally been eager to enroll to a brand new financial pillar that the United States is setting as much as counter Chinese affect. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) continues to be considerably nebulous in relation to element.
But Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. diplomat and commerce negotiator, suggests the IPEF’s “supply chain resilience” element is perhaps drawn on to counter a Chinese technique that the United States calls “economic coercion.” The coercion label primarily refers to Beijing’s imposition of commerce punishments on nations that get offside with its wider overseas coverage goals.
Australia skilled the impression of commerce linkage when China imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine and barley exports in 2020, after then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to as for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Henare’s three-day mission to South Korea isn’t any accident. Seoul and Wellington is perhaps 10,000 kilometers aside, however in relation to geopolitical technique, New Zealand and South Korea have gotten nearer by the day.
This article was initially printed by the Democracy Project, which goals to reinforce New Zealand democracy and public life by selling important considering, evaluation, debate, and engagement on politics and society.