The Perth USAsia Centre had pleasure of hosting the Asia New Zealand Foundation for a Strategic Policy Dialogue during their inaugural visit to Western Australia in August 2019. The full-day dialogue included a Policy Roundtable on the Indo-Pacific
and an Economic Roundtable on the Belt and Road Initiative
. The following is an overview of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and a breakdown of the key issues discussed at the dialogue under the Chatham House Rule.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation
, led by Executive Director Simon Draper and Director of Research and Engagement Suzannah Jessup, has spent over two decades resourcing New Zealanders to build professional experience in and cultural understanding of Asia. The independent Foundation works in partnership with Asia-focused organisations to deliver high-level forums, collaborations, cultural events and professional development opportunities – all designed to build New Zealanders’ knowledge of Asia, and equip New Zealand with the skills to more effectively engage Asia.
During the Policy Roundtable
, discussions were focused on Australia and New Zealand’s distinctive views on the emergence of the Indo-Pacific construct. Policy challenges and possible responses to the re-emergence of strategic competition in Australia and New Zealand’s part of the world were also discussed.
On the emergence of the Indo-Pacific construct, the old adage of “where you stand depends upon where you sit” was given credence. From Western Australia, the nation’s only Indian Ocean and “Indo” facing state in Australia, geographical realities give the state an unimpeded view of the emergence of India and Indonesia. Thus, for many Western Australians, the adoption by the Australian Government of the strategic construct of the Indo-Pacific has been an elegant and easily understandable development.
For New Zealand, which does not border the Indian Ocean and has closer ties to Pacific Island Forum nations, the centrality of the Pacific prevails. As such, there has been less of a strategic resonance among the New Zealand Government with the Indo-Pacific construct, and the Asia-Pacific framework is still often utilised when framing New Zealand’s place in the world.
During the Economic Roundtable
, discussions explored how Australia and New Zealand have respectively navigated the changing economic architecture of the region. A major development in this regard has been China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a landmark policy promising to build infrastructural connections across Eurasia. Coming at a time when headwinds to international economic cooperation – such as the US-China trade war – are severe, the BRI has attracted significant attention from many regional government seeking funding for infrastructure and connectivity projects.
Unlike their divergent views of the regional geography, Australia and New Zealand share many outlooks when it comes to the BRI. The initiative largely offers benefits for the regional economies which face major ‘infrastructure gaps’, and promises to augment the available financial and political capital for development-augmenting projects in our near neighbourhood. However, there are also complex governance challenges relating to transparency, sustainability and security externalities.
Both the Australian and New Zealand governments have strived to find nuance in their response to these issues. New Zealand’s relationship with the BRI is more formalised than Australia, but shares a similar outlook that emphasises engagement to drive stronger governance outcomes. In the Pacific, where both countries have major aid programs and have recently announced ‘step up’ efforts, these issues are especially acute. Capacity-building programs which aid Pacific governments to engage effectively with the BRI offers opportunities to improve all parties’ outcomes from this regional-reshaping initiative.