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Foreign Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta

Keynote Address at Diplosphere Conference Navigating a Stormy World: Te Ao Māori Perspectives

4 July 2022


Manawa maiea te pūtanga o Matariki Manawa maiea te ariki o te rangi Manawa maiea te mātahi o te tau!

Thank you for the invitation to join you today. Unfortunately I can’t be there in person but I'm pleased that this is an opportunity for young Māori and Pacific voices to share how they see the world, how it can shape the way we think about challenges of this time and seek out solutions.

Challenging Times

We are living through a period with significant disruption and complex; the international context and our ability to effect foreign policy is at a time when the rules based norms and international order is being challenged.

Foreign policy during a global pandemic when borders are closed, where issues are dynamic and rapidly evolving, and many of the routine tools and fora for diplomacy are not as accessible. We require new skills to navigate our diplomatic relationships that underpin our shared and common objectives.

Foreign policy at a time of heightening geostrategic competition, and indeed assaults on the most fundamental tenets of international law, state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and human rights, such as we have witnessed in President Putin’s actions against Ukraine, is an equally challenging thing. But we are responding with absolute clarity, commitment, speed and humanity because our imperative is peace, stability and greater prosperity. Furthermore, climate change is the existential threat of our generation which requires an unprecedented level of global agreement and committed leadership. No nation state can sit idle as we strive to keep global warming as 1.5 degrees and move towards a low carbon economy.

Here in Aotearoa and in the wider Pacific we acknowledge that these are difficult times and we should not expect them to grow easier or less complex in the period ahead. The international environment with greater geostrategic competition is likely to test the boundaries of our relationships and our foreign policy settings. We will need to continue to be agile and adaptable to navigate our way through maintaining our values and interests along the way.

Aotearoa New Zealand is Unique – But Do We Call on That Strength?

“Ka mahuta a Matariki i te pae, ka mahuta ō tatou tūmanako ki te tau” When Matariki rises above the horizon, our aspirations rise to the year ahead

On Friday 24th June, we celebrated this nation’s first ever Māori public holiday ‘Matariki’, recognising the Māori worldview through the lunar calendar and ostensibly our country’s growing recognition of matauranga Māori.

I have said that Aotearoa New Zealand’s independent foreign policy should be grounded in the principles that we aspire to, and apply at home. As a liberal democracy, we privilege fundamental human rights, and work actively to sustain, strengthen and evolve our democratic institutions.

Our journey as a nation has not been straight-forward as we seek to give life to our founding document Te Tiriti o Waitangi and how the principles guide our approach to nation building. We are on a journey and it has not been without challenge. The nexus of this contested space has shaped the Crown’s relationship with Māori and we are learning and growing from it as a nation.

Consequently our democratic characteristics will continue to evolve as we journey on this path. Several nation states face similar challenges and we have much to offer from our experience. In our context inclusion of indigenous values and interests means recognition of the Treaty all aspects of our society underpinning social cohesion.

Like our voyaging ancestors, it is a journey we are destined to make. In navigating it we are drawing on traditional tools and developing new ones. This toolkit includes values unique to us, reflecting a tirohanga Māori perspective that is relevant beyond our shores. These values can help to shape an independent dimension of our foreign policy that better informs what we stand for and how we would protect or advance those interests. The values I refer to are;

  • Manaakitanga (kindness, care, the spirit of reciprocity and our common humanity)

  • Whanaungatanga (connectedness and relationship to others)

  • Mahi tahi and kotahitanga (working towards a common purpose, shared objectives and solidarity)

  • Kaitiakitanga (stewardship and intergenerational wellbeing).

It has taught us that, as a society, we need to work hard to understand the strength of different perspectives with common objectives and the growth that comes from respect. Embracing diversity means that we are prepared to challenge “norms” that no longer serve a useful purpose and where there has been conflict or harm, there must be restitution and reconciliation.

These values emphasise meaningful, mutual, enduring relationships where mana and sovereignty are respected. They can apply equally to relationships between individuals and peoples, as between countries and governments, large and small. The way we project our interests and values matter in international relations and foreign policy.

They help define the world we want to see and are working for. This is more prevalent at a time when the International rules and norms need to reflect the expectations we have of each other and the institutions charged with promoting those expectations.

Foreign Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta

The Pacific

Aotearoa New Zealand is a Pacific country. We share an ocean, a past, and a future with our Pacific whanaunga. Our Pacific connections run through language, peoples, history, culture, sport, politics and shared interests.

We share kaitiaki responsibilities for Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa – the Blue Ocean continent – and know that what we do sets the course for our tamariki and mokopuna – of today and tommorrow.

We desire a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific in which New Zealand is a true and trusted partner. We can apply the lessons of our domestic context in a way that supports Pacific-led aspirations.

Our policy shift in the Pacific has moved towards a greater emphasis on Resilience. The strength and success of the region relies on kotahitanga – solidarity and unity of purpose. The next natural step to supporting resilience amongst our partners is listening, enabling partner-led solutions, investing in building long-term capacity and simply admitting that at times we may not have all the answers to tackle challenges across the Pacific – but the Pacific might.

The approach is consistent with our domestic focus on well-being and resilience; it recognises the overlap between domestic and international issues and the need for more integrated policy responses.

It means we recognise each has a different starting point and outlook. We aim to build on Pacific peoples’ own capabilities, using local and culturally-relevant approaches, and strengthening the capacity of partner countries to chart their own journey. With the Sustainable Development Goals as a common horizon, we prioritise our cooperation and resources to those issues that matter most for the region and with Pacific countries’ own sustainable development plans.

A sign of success will be in how we support regional architecture, enable enduring relationships across the region, act with a greater sense of co-ordination on the challenges that the Pacific have articulated – Climate Change and Economic Resilience This is not just the right and respectful way to engage. It is the only way if we exercise our whanaungatanga connection, build the trust that underpins common action and a strong relationship.

As a recent example, our COVID-19 response included a Pacific dimension as we were aware of the high risk posed to small Pacific countries with limited health capacities and economic vulnerability. We worked intensively with Pacific governments to support their efforts to prepare for, respond to and start to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Subsequently this has seen high rates of vaccinations across the Pacific and a strategic focus on regional opportunities for future pandemic preparedness and collaboration.

New Thinking and a Different Way of Working

As an island nation Aotearoa New Zealand is alert to the challenges of our environment and climate change. Surrounded by the ocean and resting on tectonic plates that make us susceptible to sea-level rise and significant seismic activity, our people have forged livelihoods fishing and living in coastal communities. We recognised the impact of global warming domestically, and the dire situation for on our Pacific whanaunga.

COP26 in Glasgow last year underscored the need for all nations – including New Zealand – to urgently lift their ambitions and implement the targets set and commitments made in order to make the deep emissions cuts by 2030 that are critical to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

It is clear that the response to climate change requires a global response where actions follows words. Global effort demands both international cooperation and domestic action. New Zealand continues our strong commitment to global efforts and multilateral solutions. At COP26 we committed to supporting more than 20 new collective initiatives, many driving innovation and delivery of smart solutions for our shared challenges. We tabled New Zealand’s updated NDC, a commitment to reduce our emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, in line with the Climate Change Commissions’ advice on aligning with the 1.5 degree temperature rise limit.

Before COP26 New Zealand committed to providing $1.3 billion in climate finance to developing countries over the next four years. The new finance pledge is more than four times the size of New Zealand’s 2018 commitment. This underlines the importance New Zealand attaches to working together with developing country partners to combat climate change. At least 50% of this will go to supporting our Pacific neighbours meet their urgent climate change challenges and at least 50% of the total climate finance allocation will be geared towards adaptation.

The way in which we support a Pacific-led response to climate change and strategically co-ordinate with other development partners on these issues we can achieve a greater impact across the region. That engagement is based five features of our resilience approach;

  • Tātai Hono (A recognition of enduring whakapapa connections)

  • Tātou Tātou (All working collectively together)

  • Whāia te Taumata Ōhanga (Advancing a circular economy)

  • Turou Hawaiiki (Navigating our aspiration together)

  • Arongia ki Rangiātea (Pursuing Excellence Across the Pacific)

This approach will change up the way that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs works within and alongside the Pacific.

There are several examples that indicate New Zealand’s relationships across the Pacific are growing stronger. In March, I signed the Duavata Partnership with Prime Minister Hon Josaia Bainimarama to formalise progress made in the New Zealand and the Republic of Fiji. This partnership sets out the priorities and principles under which our respective Governments cooperate, coordinate and partner in identified areas.

More recently, New Zealand was quick to stand with Pacific Islands Forum partners Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, to support Solomon Islands in addressing the unrest which arose late last year. New Zealand Police and Defence Force personnel worked alongside our regional partners to support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, in the spirit of tātou-tātou. Calm was restored quickly in Honiara, a testament to the effectiveness of the Pacific regional approach. Alongside the ongoing security deployment in Honiara, we are working hard to help Solomon Islands address its current COVID outbreak – as we are with many Pacific Island nations.

The resilience of the Pacific is an important priority at this time.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai earlier this year reminds us of the geographic vulnerability of the Pacific which resides in the ‘ring of fire’ and on a vast blue ocean continent. It was also an opportunity to extend our hand of friendship to support a partner in a moment of need. We continue to assist in the recovery effort and seek out new opportunities to work together.

The global pandemic, natural disasters caused by cyclical weather patterns, high labour mobility to sustain local economies, a reliance on single-industries like tourism or mining, are risks for many Pacific nations.

This extends to recasting the way development assistance is invested into the Pacific. By focusing on strategic investment as well as partnering for development, we can help to build long-term resilience in Pacific countries. For example, along with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and Australia, we have financed budget support to Pacific Island countries to build resilience in response to the economic impacts Covid-19. However, we need new committed conversations that are prepared to look at the level of economic indebtedness and find solutions to a burden that hampers economic growth for small island developing nations.

When Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity are challenged

2022 has seen growing international geostrategic tensions become overt. Russia’s invasion and ongoing war against Ukraine has taken a deep toll on the people; it has also been an assault on the rules-based international order. New Zealand was quick to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine and their territorial integrity. It is all the more shocking because the unprovoked invasion was initiated by a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. The invasion has shifted the balance of security in Europe and cast a long economic shadow globally.

Shaping, agreeing and strengthening the rules and norms that allow states to resolve issues peacefully and fairly, that moderate the power of the large and protect the interests of the small, that allow us to tackle international and global challenges – this is the bread and butter of New Zealand’s foreign policy across our security, trade, environment and development interests.

It is not possible to overstate how important a rules-based order is for a country like ours. It is an order that was hard-won; accreted slowly and incrementally, as norms were framed, rules agreed, institutions developed, however imperfect. By contrast, actions which undermine the foundations of that order can be unilateral – a comparatively easy and damaging lever to pull.

New Zealand has cut new ground in response to President Putin’s invasion. We have condemned the invasion unequivocally.

We have instituted a sanctions regime at speed, as well as travel bans and export controls. We have committed humanitarian aid to support the Ukrainian people.

We are supporting the International Criminal Court and the investigations of the International Court of Justice to hold perpetrators to account.

We have provided military aid alongside others and in line with international law, to assist Ukraine to defend itself.

This is not a war between authoritarians and democracies. It is not a war between the West and Russia. It is a struggle between internationally agreed rules and a “might mean’s right” attitude. This is a moment when New Zealand has chosen to stand firm with those who share our commitment to the international rule of law, state sovereignty and human rights. Being clear on what we stand for ‘matters’ it is a position based on our values and interests and can be relied on were we to face similar challenges closer to home in the Pacific. We see ourselves as a trusted and reliable friend who can be counted on in times of great need – especially when the rules and norms of International law are breached and the threat of instability, insecurity and (dare I say it) war may emerge.


I hope to have outlined that our values based approach with an indigenous lens continues to shape our independent foreign policy.

I have had the honour and privilege of being Foreign Minister at this time, and the opportunity to bring to the portfolio my experience as a Māori woman, and ensuring a Te Ao Maori lens is applied to our foreign policy. This has manifested and supported the way MFAT organises itself; who it employs; and our representatives abroad.

It is still early to say how the bi-cultural values of Aotearoa has impacted our foreign policy outlook. What I can say is that when we engage with other economies and states, there is growing recognition that our unique perspective – born out of our lived experience founded on the Treaty of Waitangi – does have some transferrable merit. We have sought to maintain respectful, consistent and predictable approach which underscores the value of manaaki and in particular the recognition of mana, while ensuring our perspective is known.

We will continue to promote our values in a world of differing views, and find opportunities to showcase the bi-cultural nature of our nation.

Our ‘new normal’ does not need to rest on post-COVID health and economic recovery – a ‘new normal’ is a commitment towards empathy, sustainability, and intergenerational solutions for wellbeing. A bringing together of manaaki, whanaunga, mahi tahi, kotahitanga, and kaitiakitanga.

Each of these values when expressed in a relationship gives a sense that everything is connected and purposeful.

No reira, Maanawatia Matariki, Maanawatia Aotearoa!

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