Disagreements strengthen our relations with America

David Parker

New Zealand must find its place in the new world order. We must address the insecurity unleashed by the profound changes unfolding since the US elections.

Since WWII, New Zealand and the United States have worked together in the world as friends and allies, sharing common ideals for the creation of multilateral institutions to shape a better world. Our joint commitment to freedom of speech and elections, the rule of law and the upholding of human rights are important shared values.

Early commitment

Speaking to the plenary session of the San Francisco conference in 1945 where the United Nations was born, our Prime Minister Peter Fraser set out the New Zealand position:

“I am speaking for a country which although small in area and population, has made great sacrifices in two world wars. I speak for the New Zealanders who died and are buried thousands of miles from their own land in the cause they believed to be just. I speak for the New Zealanders yet to be born. It is my deep fear that if this fleeting moment is not captured the world will again relapse into a period of disillusionment, despair and doom. This must not happen.”

Independence stance

Over the years, our increasingly independent stance on international affairs has grown. We disagreed with the US over Iraq, but helped in Afghanistan.

For over 30 years, we worked to get over the hump in the road after New Zealand went nuclear free. We stuck to our principles, yet succeeded in maintaining our relationship because we saw in each other an underlying confluence of values. We have both been outwardly focused and liberal democracies.

Now, the new US administration is displaying values which conflict with our own. Alternative facts, rejection of objective journalism, abandonment of diplomacy, alienation of its neighbours, winding back on trade, immigration based on race and religion, and the denial of climate change. Long-settled norms have been thrown overboard, creating confusion in the world. A president has been tweeting about the possibility of World War III.

New Zealand has not changed, but the US administration has.

What do these changes mean and how should New Zealand react with the US?

With principle. It is because of our long relationship that we can say to our old friend, the US, “Mate, it’s not OK.”

Unclear Vision

Our place in the new world order is not yet clear. The ascendency of China, India and other countries on the Asian side of the Pacific rim also influences our future.

The share of world GDP in what the IMF calls emerging and developing Asia has grown from 9% in 1980 to 32% in 2016.

Our own trade figures reflect that. Annual trade with China is now over $10 billion each way. Trade with India is much less, and so represents a huge opportunity.

Brexit and uncertainty in Europe are also unleashing an insecurity in the world.

More than ever it is important we maintain our independent stance, dealing with difficult issues according to our cherished values. Standing up for what is right is the best place for us. We did it when Labour under Helen Clark backed the United Nations over Iraq, and we did it when we confronted China over human rights.

We should never be afraid to call out an international friend when they act against basic norms.

Challenges and anxieties

It is a challenging time.

The anxieties of people can be used for good or bad; to engender fear or hope.

We do not have control but do have influence.

We should use that influence in the pursuit of good. We should not shrink from that duty. Forthright principle, not submissiveness, should guide our path.

What unites New Zealand and the US has always been greater than what from time to time divides us. Standing firm to our beliefs and holding true to the values that make us Kiwis has earned us trust and respect around the world.

It is the foundation of our security and prosperity. Standing strong and proud, defending tolerance and fairness, embracing diversity and equality, and being open to trade is surely the best way to ensure our future in an uncertain world.

David Parker is Member of Parliament elected from Dunedin North Constituency and the Party’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson.

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