New Zealand needs to keep up its commitment to Southeast Asia

19 June 2013

New Zealand has been highly successful in engaging with Southeast Asia – but is competing with more countries for attention in the region, according to a new report from the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

The report, Mind the Gap: New Zealand and Regional Institutions in Southeast Asia says new initiatives are needed to sustain New Zealand’s relationship with the region.

Author Dr David Capie, senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, writes that New Zealand has been highly successful in engaging with Southeast Asian regional institutions. It has been a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since 1975, and has secured membership of other major regional groups including the East Asia Summit.  

But Capie also notes New Zealand needs to be careful a gap doesn’t grow between its “rhetorical commitment” to Southeast Asia and “the means provided to sustain that relationship”. New Zealand needs to show that it adds value to the region.

ASEAN has attracted more interest in recent years and New Zealand will have to do more to maintain its profile. “Countries as diverse as Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and Zimbabwe have all recently appointed ambassadors to ASEAN.”

In this report, Capie recommends that New Zealand increase its diplomatic resources in Southeast Asia, expand its commitment to defence diplomacy, look for opportunities to help Myanmar when it chairs ASEAN for the first time in 2014 and promote greater understanding of ASEAN in New Zealand.

Mind the Gap is the latest in a series of Asia New Zealand Foundation research reports exploring New Zealand’s relationship with Southeast Asia.

ASEAN, set up in 1967, is important to the region’s economic cooperation, security and stability. New Zealand’s ties with the 10 ASEAN states have grown steadily in the past four decades and those states collectively comprise New Zealand’s third largest trading partner.

The New Zealand government is due to launch its ASEAN strategy next month.

Rebecca Palmer
Asia New Zealand Foundation media adviser
04 470 8701