Suzannah Jessep joined the Asia New Zealand Foundation in March 2019, after serving as New Zealand’s Deputy High Commissioner to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Deputy Ambassador to Nepal and as New Zealand’s Deputy High Commissioner to Vanuatu.
During her thirteen years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she also served in the Ministry’s Australia, Pacific, and Europe Divisions, and in the area of Antarctic and security policy.
She is a Board member of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs (NZIIA) and sits on the Advisory Boards of Minister Damien O’Connor’s Trade for All Ministerial Advisory Group, the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre (NZCCRC) and the New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI). Suzannah is passionate about Asia, and in particular building New Zealand’s connections with the fast-growing and dynamic South Asia.
Dr. Pramod Jaiswal, Strategic Affairs Editor at Khabarhub, spoke to Suzannah Jessep on “New Zealand- South Asia Ties”
Ms. Jessep, the first question for today is what are New Zealand’s Foreign Policy priorities? How do you look at New Zealand’s Foreign Policy?
Well, on New Zealand’s foreign policy, New Zealand has typically prided itself on being an engaged player, guided by the principle that if you’re not at the table you are still on the menu.
So, in normal times, not in the midst of a pandemic, you could expect to see us exhibit classic small state behavior: active multilateralism, working with others balancing powers and interests, using soft power and so on.
But with COVID-19, much of this has been thrown upside down. I think it’s fair to say we are now far more insular and introspective and we have become more focused on our immediate neighborhood, particularly the South Pacific and here our priority is just to be a good partner, in bilateral terms, keep trade ticking over, support development – we have got a development program of around USD 1.3 billion over three years, and through offering assistance help support with COVID-19.
I guess the other factor that shapes New Zealand’s foreign policy is our status as a maritime nation. We have got the fourth largest EEZ globally, no land borders, all our trade goes by sea and so we are very attentive of the rules and laws that govern the sea such as UNCLOS.
The third factor that shapes our foreign policy is New Zealand’s current leadership, which brings quite a different flavor to New Zealand’s foreign policy compared to what we were seeing in the past.
Prime Minister Ardern is a young female leader whose got a very different style of politics compared to her predecessors and much of her communication to the New Zealand general public has been around kindness, equity and community wellbeing, which has been quite different from John Key and his trade-driven approach and certainly contrasts in a tone quite a bit to, say, Australia’s Scott Morrison.
It’s the same for Nanaia Mahuta, our foreign minister, who has brought a real focus on Maori values and bringing an indigenous lens to foreign policy which I think your institute has recently explored; but the degree to which these things change the direction of New Zealand’s foreign policy, I’m not so sure. I think it’s more a matter of style and tone rather than any significant policy shift.
In day to day terms, right now, New Zealand’s foreign policy is focused on combating covid, we have got quite an aggressive elimination strategy with short, sharp lockdowns, pretty much-closed borders and now we are working on just getting our vaccination rates up and then on rebuilding and reconnecting.
We are also hosting APEC this year, which is being organized online unfortunately but it’s involved a tremendous amount of energy from our foreign ministry.
And I don’t think New Zealand is under any delusions that APEC is a perfect body but we do see it as an investment in the public body and as a body that helps grow the pieces that form the new formal architecture of the Asia Pacific.
Overall, I would say that geography is destiny and when under stress countries revert their instincts, that New Zealand
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