New Zealand will be intensifying its engagement with the Pacific, said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The Kiwi leader was a guest speaker at the Lowy Institute in Australia.
Unlike Australia, New Zealand has been more cautious with its Pacific approach, however, it looks like things will be changing.
Ms Ardern will travel to Fiji next week where the Pacific Islands Forum leaders are meeting. This will be New Zealand’s first visit to the Pacific after opening its borders for international travel and after the China-Solomon security deal fiasco.
She highlighted the need for a united Pacific if regional goals were to be achieved and noted the growing importance of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Ms Ardern was quick to point out that climate change should be made into a foreign policy.
“We won’t succeed, however, if those parties we seek to engage with are increasingly isolated and the region we inhabit becomes increasingly divided and polarised. We must not allow the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy to become an inevitable outcome for our region,” said Ms Ardern.
She said economic architecture was vital to building resilience in the region.
She stressed the Pacific Islands Forum, which will in coming days see leaders from across the Pacific meet, is the vehicle for addressing regional challenges.
“We see local security challenges being resolved locally, with Pacific Islands Forum Members’ security being addressed first and foremost by the Forum family,” Ms Ardern said.
Ms Ardern has always expressed her views on China, even from the time when China’s security deal became a speculative issue.
She said China had been present in the Pacific for more than two decades and it would be wrong to characterise China’s engagement in the Pacific as new.
She also pointed out that Pacific nations were sovereign countries and had all the rights to choose their diplomatic allies and that Australia and New Zealand should move away from the idea that they control the Pacific.
“It would also be wrong to position the Pacific in such a way that they have to pick sides. These are democratic nations with their own sovereign right to determine their foreign policy engagements,” Ms Ardern.
“Priorities should be set by the Pacific. They should be free from coercion.”
Ms Ardern said climate change must also be a foreign policy priority.
“While we all have a concern, and rightly so, about any moves towards militarisation of our region, that must surely be matched by a concern for those who experience the violence of climate change,” she said.
Ms Ardern’s speech included rising geopolitical tensions in the Pacific, sparked by a security arrangement between the Solomon Islands and China at the start of the year.
Australia and New Zealand will be present at the Forum next week. They have to be as the region for the first time will be discussing the proposal put forward by China as promised by Pacific leaders.