Politics and security hui - New Zealand must set its own course

Experts and commentators on New Zealand-Asia relations gathered in Wellington in August for the Foundation’s politics and security focussed Seriously Asia Revisited hui. The roundtable brought together specialists from academia, defence, politics, diplomacy, media and cyber security to take a deep dive into the opportunities and issues New Zealand faces with developing its ties to the region.

Watch this video to get a taste of the topics and conversations that arose at the Seriously Asia Revisited Politics and Security hui

The Wellington hui was the second of four SAR hui to be held around the country, following on from the society and culture hui held in Auckland in July.

The purpose of the four SAR hui is to generate ideas that can form the basis for New Zealand’s engagement with Asia over coming decades and builds on a programme of work the Foundation conducted in 2003.

Topics of conversation at the politics and security roundtable included the need to grow New  Zealand’s Asia literacy, potential region instability (and the threats posed to this country) and how New Zealand positions itself on sensitive political issues.

Hui participants sitting at tables around a room listening to a speaker

Simon Draper: "It’s clear we need a vision that extends beyond election cycles and personnel changes in bureaucracies and businesses.”

With so much on the line, participants were in agreement that New Zealand would need a cohesive, deliberate approach to relationship building in the region.

“It’s clear we need a vision that extends beyond election cycles and personnel changes in bureaucracies and businesses” says the Foundation’s executive director Simon Draper.

Echoing conversations from the society and culture hui, participants emphasised that New Zealand and Asia have changed a lot since the first plan developed in 2003, but the key element of people being at the core of New Zealand – Asia relationships remained true.

“What we heard was that over the year’s New Zealand has too often taken a narrow mercantilist approach to its engagement with Asia,” Mr Draper says.

“While we have achieved much when it comes to building business connections in the region, it’s not clear we have done as well as we could have; looking at Asia though a singular trade lens is simply not sufficient for New Zealand to build the relationships it needs in the region in 2022 and beyond.”

The hui provided room for a wide-range of voices to be heard from a range of commentators and disciplines

Recommendation’s that came from the hui as being crucial first steps towards an updated plan for the coming years included growing public understanding of New Zealand interests in Asia and enabling the Government to make the necessary investments in time, effort and resources.

Another recommendation from the hui, which was held under the Chatham House Rule, is that New Zealand needs to develop its own, unique narrative about its place in the region.

"To do this, we would need articulate a set of values and objectives that all New Zealanders understand and can buy into; values and objectives that advance an agenda that benefits New Zealand and New Zealanders and is understood by our partners," Mr Draper says.

“Simply put, unless New Zealand understands and is clear about its own future in Asia we will find ourselves at the whims of others.

"It was brought up more than once that how New Zealand chooses to position itself - as a Western, Pacific or Asia-Pacific nation - will greatly impact how Asian nations view and interact with us."

Further Seriously Asia Revisited hui are to be held in Christchurch (9 September), which will focus on trade, tourism and investment and Queenstown (29 September), where the focus will be innovation and sustainable development.