Open Letter to Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand
By Antipodean Village Blogger
[Summary & Update:
This blog explores how resources already present in the capital city of nuclear-free New Zealand, geographically remote from world conflicts, might be leveraged to help develop fresh shared, win-win regional and wider international overviews on present and potential future conflicts. Such overviews would enable more comprehensive shared visions and policies to address issues to be developed.
Such amenities could also help provide new, more effective channels to deal with increasingly vexing and dangerous South China Sea problems as well as the Ukraine crisis ]
Dear Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Key
In the light of some difficulties that Australia has been experiencing in relation to Indonesia and China, I was inspired to write to you both to ask you to consider whether and how New Zealand might be able to support constructive regional dialogue to help address such developments more effectively.
Australia’s geostrategic environment and some emerging problems
Australia and New Zealand certainly share many historical experiences and contemporary perspectives. However at the same time, Australia’s different geostrategic position and diplomatic relationships mean it has some inherently more complex and difficult issues to deal with. Australia interacts in the world as a middle rather than a small power, and it fronts directly onto the Asian region that includes some very large nations like Indonesia, China and India.
In its quest for security, Australia has formed a strong military and intelligence alliance with the United States. The military aspect of the alliance, involving United States forces being based on Australian territory, has irritated China. The intelligence aspect, impacting as it has on Indonesia, has caused irritation that still continues. Difficulties with Indonesia have been compounded also by Australia acting vigorously to stem the flow of thousands of boat people coming through that country.
Consequently, Australia is finding it difficult to progress cooperation with Indonesia about that and other issues.
Consequently also, China and Indonesia are beginning to cooperate in unprecedented ways. This cooperation includes Indonesia allowing Chinese ships to sail through its waters near the Australian controlled Christmas Islands (see the map in the Fairfax graphic accompanying this blog), and a visit by the head of Indonesia’s military chief General Moeldoko to China. Should such cooperation continue to expand it could result in new geostrategic pressures on Australia and, at some stage, even alter the wider power balances of the region.
Bishop: Aust still waiting for Indonesian response on code of conduct
Navy incursions into Indonesian waters causing ‘go slow’ in military relationship, Defence Force Chief David Hurley says
TNI chief to visit China, may meet Xi Jinping ]
Leveraging New Zealand’s more benign diplomatic circumstances
Given its comparative geographic remoteness, tranquil environment and smaller size, New Zealand has on the other hand generally been able to develop lower-key, less controversial foreign relationships.
So I wish to ask, can New Zealand use its relatively quiet, undisturbed geostrategic position as a basis from which to support calm wider regional diplomatic dialogue, understanding and harmony?
Two practical, cost-effective proposals
I believe New Zealand can situate itself to help, and would like to propose some innovative, practical and cost effective ways it might go about this.
I would like to make two main proposals: (1) Develop Wellington as a diplomatic village, and (2) Develop a network of “capital-to-capital” sister city relationships.
Any costs should be more than recovered by the international profile, high-level connections and skills that would come with such developments.
Developing Wellington as a “diplomatic village”
That is, as a place where diplomats, politicians, academics and other interested parties can always meet to share views and learn more about matters of interest and concern. How could this be brought about? How could it be made productive? Some ideas for consideration:
- On-going inter-embassy discussions: The diplomatic staff of regional powers with Wellington embassies could be encouraged and sometimes facilitated to meet and talk quietly and regularly, both formally and informally, about matters of shared interest and concern. This could begin right now.
- Back-channels then easier to create: Such conversations would make it easier for back-channel discussions of immediately pressing issues to achieve a clearer mutual understanding of what governments are doing, why, and how to do things better.
- Academic facilitation: When appropriate, specific conversations might be encouraged and facilitated by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assisted by academic specialists where relevant from the nearby Victoria University of Wellington and elsewhere. Such conversations could also be supported by relevant academic seminars, research, studies and regional scholarships.
- Broader, solution-generating perspectives: More broad and constructive ways of looking at issues and situations and developing inter-state consensus about options and solutions could emerge much more readily than otherwise from such conversations. Presently, foreign policy decisionmakers can feel they need to make decisions in the light of immediate pressures in increasingly complex and at times dangerous situations where it can be difficult to understand the full implications or the best options. For instance it could be very timely and useful for Australia and Indonesia to have somewhere to conduct quiet, on-going conversations about how they might best understand and meet their mutual needs and goals. Similarly, how do China and the United States see the wider Asia-Pacific region, and their roles in it? Similarly also, what are the goals and aspirations of other nations? How can considered, mutually acceptable visions and ways of achieving these things be developed?
- Starting with a period of mutual learning: I am fully aware that these are large goals to work at. Naturally the participants would initially need time to feel their way to learn how to engage effectively and productively. In time, robust and mutually-acceptable ways of facilitating conversations and setting up useful agendas and reaching decisions should increasingly emerge. The important thing is to take the first steps to get the conversations going in Wellington, sooner rather than later. As the saying goes, “there is no time like the present” for getting things done!
Developing a network of capital-to-capital sister city relationships
Much more depth and resilience could be added to diplomatic conversations if new “capital-to-capital” sister city networks were to be developed, particularly if good use was also made of the internet and social media. I would like to propose:
- A Canberra-Wellington-Beijing-Jakarta-Washington sister city network: Both Canberra and Wellington already have sister city relationships with Beijing. Why not also link Canberra and Wellington themselves together as sister cities? And make it a goal for Canberra and Wellington to also link with Jakarta and even Washington as sister cities?
- So new, capital city conversations: Across such capital sister cities politicians, academics and foreign affairs officials and others could connect with counterparts to engage in conversations, both with and without explicit agendas. Non-government organizations, business chambers, technology interest groups, educational and cultural and sporting organizations could also connect with their sister capital city counterparts.
- Sister school connections using social media: These proposed sister capital connections could in turn be made more effective over time by having sister schools across the capitals connect with one another. Schools can now do this vastly more effectively by using the internet and social media. The 2012 Australian white paper, Australia in the Asian Century usefully proposed that every Australian school so connect with Asian schools (see also my previous Open Letter to Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia). With these educational proposals a new and better connected generation could grow up knowing how to better understand and relate across nations and cultures, and how to get beyond present problems into creating, together, a better world. New educational curricula that helped this to happen could be another outcome.
- 21st century connection building: The sister city connection building described here should enable all sorts of productive conversations and relationships, and a world with horizons and prospects such as would not have been possible in the previous century, to emerge.
Towards brighter international futures
Europe has come through many tensions and potential conflicts with places like Geneva and Vienna where all could meet to talk through and seek to resolve their differences. There is no such permanent centre in the Asia-Pacific region with its many potential sources of conflict. Why not make Wellington a centre for regional dialogue? Anyone aware of regional tensions must know that there is a lot of good work that could be done in such a centre, starting right now. Let’s move to create a future that works.
Yours in peace
Antipodean Village Blogger