Strengthening the New Zealand-Japan strategic partnership – The Diplomat

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio pose for the media at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Credit: Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP

On April 11, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she would visit Singapore and Japan. After a stopover in Singapore, she said she would meet Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio to discuss trade and reconnect with New Zealand’s “closest Indo-Pacific economic and security partner”, Japan. His trip was significant for New Zealand as it was his first overseas trip to talk about trade deals with the country’s fourth-largest economic partner since the national border closed in March 2020.

However, more importantly, Ardern did not travel to Japan just to talk Trade; it was a strategic decision to reconnect with one of New Zealand’s closest friends to address security issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Indeed, Ardern’s trip was a major turning point in the bilateral relationship between New Zealand and Japan. strategic and Security relationship.

Following the April 21 summit meeting, Ardern and Kishida issued a joint statement. Compared to the previous joint declaration in 2019, the central message was clear in the title of the statement: “Japan and Aotearoa New Zealand: A strategic cooperative partnership for shared peace, security and prosperity”. Discussions on what the two countries would do are over; they now stand side by side and are ready to take concrete steps to achieve, as the title suggests, “common peace, security and prosperity” in the Indo-Pacific region.

Ardern and Kishida shared the view that common peace, security and prosperity in the region have been threatened by Russian aggression against Ukraine and China’s violation of human rights in Xinjiang. Moreover, both agreed that to achieve stability in the region, they must address “growing strategic challenges in the Pacific that could destabilize the regional security environment”, inevitably referring to China’s growing presence. in the Pacific.

Beyond the message contained in the title of the joint statement, its contents also show a significant sign of New Zealand and Japan intensifying their bilateral strategic partnership in both quantity and quality. The 2022 joint statement nearly doubled the number of paragraphs, from 15 to 26. Both leaders now comfortably use the term “Indo-Pacific” in their policy statements. This indicates that New Zealand has been more accepting of Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision when it comes to defining its role with close friends in the region. Ardern and Kishida are no longer hesitant but have openly stated that their countries “are key partners in promoting and protecting peace and security in the Indo-Pacific” who have a “shared commitment to achieving an Indo- Free and open Pacific based on the rule of law.”

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Furthermore, taking the opportunity to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the start of their diplomatic relations, Ardern and Kishida agreed to sign an information sharing agreement in the near future, an agreement that Japan has with its close partners in security, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and India. Coincidentally, these countries are also members of Quad, AUKUS, Five Eyes and/or ANZUS. Their information-sharing arrangement could complement emerging and traditional minilateral security networks. the said Quad More may be something both leaders are considering.

In addition, there are three unprecedented actions that the two have agreed or have already taken for regional peace and stability under the Japan-New Zealand strategic partnership. First, Ardern and Kishida promised to hold their first foreign defense ministerial meeting (2+2). Second, recognizing the importance of closer cooperation between the New Zealand Defense Forces and the Japan Self-Defense Forces, the two leaders agreed to hold a bilateral military exercise. Third, to strengthen defense diplomacy, the Japanese government for the first time sent a defense attaché to the Japanese Embassy in Wellington in April 2022.

These are positive developments in many ways. Both countries share the fundamental values ​​of a regional and international order based on rules and not on power in their foreign and security policies. These values ​​have become more important than ever, given recent situations in the South China Sea and now in Ukraine.

New Zealand and Australia are currently facing challenges stemming from the gradual expansion of China’s influence in the South Pacific region. The China-Solomon Islands security pact, followed by a strong reaction from many South Pacific countries as well as New Zealand, Australia and Japan, signifies the emergence of strategic competition between the great powers of the region.

In part, the Kishida administration is preparing for the upgrade of the 2013 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines in order to solve these deteriorating problems. He was also reported that Kishida is working to increase Japan’s defense budget to 2% of GDP. Given the current situations in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, such changes are necessary.

At the same time, however, it is equally vital that New Zealand and Japan are empathetic listeners to Pacific countries and real actors in their real issues. While the focus on “the existential threat that climate change poses to the world, including many partners in the Pacific” in the 2022 joint statement is welcome, New Zealand and Japan must cooperate with d other like-minded powers and follow the example to ensure environmental security in the Pacific as well.

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