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Making Wellington a diplomatic village for the Asia Pacific region – and beyond?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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


  1. Don says:

    We have learned from Julian Assange and others how the powers that be seek to foil or frustrate conflict resolution.

    I think your proposals to resolve conflicts using a mediator such as Wellington to be eminently sensible. We have already seen the disastrous attempts at using military solutions to achieve “final solutions” do the opposite. They mostly affect innocent civilians.

    It is time for an alternative approach. It is what the creation of the United Nations hoped to accomplish.

  2. Shifa says:

    Well thought out and achievable. I think your idea should be looked into by the PTB as it makes a great deal of sense due to NZ’s somewhat neutrality and bridge-building capabilities. Certainly Australia cannot hope to fulfil such a role as you have so ably pointed out her situation within the regions, particularly those closest to us.

  3. MalcolmGuy says:

    Great in principle and I commend you on the concept. Wondering what progress have you seen since this was first published? Diplomacy moves slowly at the best of times, but can achieve greatness in the long run.

    The strategic benefits to NZ certainly outweigh any financial costs and the geolocation provides excellent physical neutrality while still being instantly connected in today’s cyber world.

    • VIllage Connections says:

      Thanks Guy – you put your finger well on some key advantages of New Zealand that are there to be leveraged. Wellington has amenities – government, embassies and academic institutions that could be networked to help do this effectively.
      Decision-makers operating in grooves can take time to recognize opportunities even when they are right in front of them, although when I have explained verbally how the concept could work, people seem to be able to get it quite readily.
      Helen Clark has also “liked” similar village-connections blogs on Twitter when I drew her attention to them while she was campaigning to become the United Nations Secretary General, indicating that she saw their potential. One United States academic specialist on China recently based in Wellington for a while also warmed to the idea when I explained it to him.
      I suspect that it will be as the regional and world geostrategic situation continues to worsen that New Zealand and perhaps other decision-makers, faced more directly with potentially drastic possibilities, might look more seriously at such proposals. Or perhaps some opposition politicians will be first to do so and adopt them as policy.

  4. Robert MORRIS says:

    Yes, I like the idea conceptually. But, the New World Order isn’t really interested in harmony. That’s the meat of the problem.
    The bankers and elite wield the power, not the politicians. So, until we set an example by moving away from the fiat currencies and becoming truly independent, we are no more than a pawn of the elite.
    Bank funded debt is the global problem. There is no practical reason for it, except to fund war, regimes, and crisis. That’s debt.
    So, in my mind NZ needs to change the way we consider “debt” and instead of taxing residents through debt, we must develop new methods of finance that are safe and transparent.
    We must delink ourselves from the banking elite. Only then can we claim to be impartial. The current systems of finance and “markets” are farcical. They are 100% manipulated and supported by our government and the elite.
    So, the way I see it, diplomacy isn’t the issue.
    It’s the debt based monetary system that funds war and crisis. That’s the conversation we should be having.
    I know I may have moved away from the subject a little. But everyone knows this. So, let’s stop the charade. That’s number one.
    Then we can facilitate global relationships with trust.
    Right now, NZ supports the US and UK war machine, the elite, and their cabal. That must stop. And then we can claim to be the global village for discourse. But until then. Its a farce and every diplomat in Wellington knows it.

    • VIllage Connections says:

      Thanks, Robert.
      My prime interest is to see a new forum set up where multi-level conversations can take place in which all can share their diverse views and knowledge, around which relevant, good quality research and framing can be developed and fed into more, on-going conversations.
      Such conversations would be taking place at a stage history where humans have created technologies that are able to support unprecedented collaboration, development and well-being for all, or bring their species and perhaps most others to an end through war or ecosystem and/or civilizational collapse.
      Opening up such conversations could help like nothing else to bring all to an awareness of such stakes and help motivate and equip them to clarify and frame the best, viable options available and ways of implementing them.
      So while my concern is more processual than substantive, the processes I recommend should support any and all to bring up and share any relevant and significant points, and have them recognized as such, in ways that cannot done very easily at present.

  5. Robert MORRIS says:

    Yes, I am in all favour of open debate and discussion. You are correct of course John. We do not have robust debate anywhere these days. It seems to me the conversations are dominated by people who went to the same school. Same school, same sh**! Just look at the NZ political chamber. It’s a joke. Devoid of creative thought and full of old school cronyism.

    We need diversity, and respect. Keep up the good work.


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