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Gleb Doroshenko

Student at the Higher School of Economics (HSE)

For a long time, Australia and New Zealand existed outside the active processes of interaction between the Asia-Pacific region. This was largely due to technological issues (there was no well-functioning transport system between the mainland APR and the islands under consideration). However, from the position of political and economic interaction, the states in question preferred to pay more attention to domestic politics and cooperation with their long-standing allies (USA, Great Britain), without actively addressing Asian countries of the Asia-Pacific region. The considered turn to the Asia-Pacific Region began to occur gradually from the beginning of the 21st century and reached the peak of historical interaction since the 2010s.

What reasons influenced the turn of Australia and New Zealand to the Asia-Pacific region? Firstly, over the last decade of the 20th century, the economic situation in the world has seriously changed. Now the main economic growth has concentrated in the Asia-Pacific countries, which has also affected the geostrategic importance of the region - it has become one of the most important in the world, both from an economic and political point of view. Secondly, the long-standing ally of Australia and New Zealand - the United States, began to pursue an active policy in this direction (especially with regard to regional security issues), which forced the countries in question from their allied obligations to support US integration in the region (this motivation was only at the initial stages of intensifying interaction between Australia and New Zealand with the region, an individual agenda was gradually developed in recent years). Thirdly, having established domestic policy and achieved stable economic growth, Australia and New Zealand were given the opportunity to invest and enhance their foreign policy in order to demonstrate certain political claims in the region.

Considering the successful integration of Australia and New Zealand into the Asia-Pacific region in recent years, it is proposed to slightly review their role and use their periphery (the absence of unresolved contentious issues with the Asia-Pacific countries) to solve regional problems. Australia and New Zealand appear to be excellent actors for mediation in the many regional disputes present in the region. At the moment, it seems that the potential of these actors is little used (as in the case of New Zealand in the TPP) or is not used at all (as in the situation of conflict in the South China Sea).

It is also worth actively involving these states in charitable and humanitarian programs in the Asia-Pacific region, as states pay special attention to soft power. Separately, it is worth paying attention to establishing ties in the field of education, since in Australia and New Zealand it is carried out according to the “Western system,” which can “open the door” for the young generation of APR citizens to a different culture, which will contribute to the competent establishment of relations with Western partners in the future.

In matters of regional security, Australia and New Zealand will be useful in combating the non-traditional threats that are common in the Asia-Pacific region: terrorism, piracy, cybercrime. Due to the considerable technical equipment, these countries will be able to make a tangible contribution to the fight against these phenomena.


For a long time, Australia and New Zealand existed outside the active processes of interaction between the Asia-Pacific region. This was largely due to technological issues (there was no well-functioning transport system between the mainland APR and the islands under consideration). However, from the position of political and economic interaction, the states in question preferred to pay more attention to domestic politics and cooperation with their long-standing allies (USA, Great Britain), without actively addressing Asian countries of the Asia-Pacific region. The considered turn to the Asia-Pacific Region began to occur gradually from the beginning of the 21st century and reached the peak of historical interaction since the 2010s.

What reasons influenced the turn of Australia and New Zealand to the Asia-Pacific region? Firstly, over the last decade of the 20th century, the economic situation in the world has seriously changed. Now the main economic growth has concentrated in the Asia-Pacific countries, which has also affected the geostrategic importance of the region - it has become one of the most important in the world, both from an economic and political point of view. Secondly, the long-standing ally of Australia and New Zealand - the United States, began to pursue an active policy in this direction (especially with regard to regional security issues), which forced the countries in question from their allied obligations to support US integration in the region (this motivation was only at the initial stages of intensifying interaction between Australia and New Zealand with the region, an individual agenda was gradually developed in recent years). Thirdly, having established domestic policy and achieved stable economic growth, Australia and New Zealand were given the opportunity to invest and enhance their foreign policy in order to demonstrate certain political claims in the region.

Consider the interaction of Australia and New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region using the example of 3 areas: economic, political and regional security.

Economy

It was from the economic sphere that the active entry of the countries in question into the region began. The reasons for this are understandable - the growing economies of the Asia-Pacific region have always attracted the international community to interact, even despite existing political differences.

In 2008, New Zealand became the first developed country with a Western liberal political system to enter into a free trade agreement with China. Then New Zealand became the first “western” country to join the Chinese BRI initiative (2014) and enter into an interaction with Asia Infrastructure Bank [1]. In the same year, China and New Zealand entered into a strategic partnership agreement, which significantly affected the US position in the region [2]. Nevertheless, in recent years there has been a tendency toward attempts by the leadership of the NZ [3] to balance between China and the United States, which began to appear after the outbreak of certain conflicts with Beijing (conflict with «Huawei» over the construction of 5G towers and drop in tourist flow from China).

With regard to economic relations with other Asia-Pacific countries, New Zealand prefers to be guided by the principle of bilaterality, regularly updating previous economic arrangements in the format of 1-on-1 meetings. It is difficult to call these relations strategic; rather, they are special cases of beneficial interactions in areas where countries that are a priority for NZ cannot provide the required quality of services. The main partners in this segment of cooperation are Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Australia is warier of China's economic initiatives, which is reflected in the constant diversification of economic ties that the state deals with in the Asia-Pacific region. The state is one of the largest investors in the economies of the Asia-Pacific region (for the period from 2008 to 2018, the amount of investment increased from 108 billion to 395 billion). And in 2010, Australia initiated the signing of an agreement with ASEAN on the creation of a free trade zone. Australia is Singapore's priority economic partner for ASEAN (it accounts for 3.3% of all foreign investments + active cooperation in the field of regional security is carried out).

But despite this, China remains Australia's main trading partner. The total turnover of the two countries in 2019 amounted to $ 138 billion. The main concern for Canberra is the expansionist nature of China’s foreign policy in the region (increasing its presence in Oceania, conducting military exercises) and reports of China’s interference in the domestic politics of countries with which Beijing has active economic relations (which in Australia has already caused a big political scandal).

Thus, relations in the economic sphere of interaction between Australia and NZ with the Asia-Pacific region largely rest against the issue of interaction with China: while NZ has finally formulated its policy towards Beijing (which may be revised due to recent events), Australia is in a dilemma: on the one hand, China is an important trading partner, and on the other, a dangerous competitor. The resolution of this dilemma is the main foreign policy task for Canberra in the coming years.

Politics

Starting as a state that almost completely follows the US foreign policy line in the region, Australia is currently an independent player in the region (while maintaining allied obligations to the US), with its own foreign policy agenda, which is officially enshrined in the 2017 White Paper.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Australia has been actively involved in participation and dialogue in various regional organizations in the Asia-Pacific Region (APEC, ASEAN, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership), which contributes to the integration of the state in the region, the expansion of bilateral contacts and the formation of their own judgments about problematic issues (disagreement with China's foreign policy, formalization of the concept of Indo-Pacific, the issue of South China Sea). Moreover, Australia has become one of the initiators of the concept of Indo-Pacific, which seriously included the state in the political discourse of the Asia-Pacific region for the coming years.

The role of Australia in the region is attractive for ASEAN countries, which, with the active participation of Australia in the Asia-Pacific region policy, receive an additional regional-average player, interacting with whom can diversify their political dependence on China. In 2018, the ASEAN-Australia Summit was held in Australia, at which proposals were put forward to increase cooperation for the coming years.

The competition with Beijing is not only in ASEAN, but also a serious concern for Australia is the increase in China's presence in Oceania, the historically “Australian” region.

New Zealand has long been on the periphery of regional political processes, confining itself to a “near radius” policy. The state is still more focused on issues of the South Asia-Pacific Region and is mainly limited only to bilateral contacts with the Asia-Pacific countries. This is largely due to the geopolitical characteristics of the country, which in all respects, can be attributed to a small country.

However, NZ, at the moment, after the departure of the United States, plays an important role in TTP. This role lies in the position of the player of permanent neutrality, the territory of the “safe haven,” the country - with which you can resolve any contentious issue within the organization. This position of the country is further strengthened by the main foreign policy topics addressed by the leaders of the NZ, namely: a nuclear-free position and the environment.

Regional Security

For a long time in the Asia-Pacific region, the participation of Australia and New Zealand in regional security issues was limited to the following scheme: formally, Australia was considered the “sheriff's assistant” (that is, the United States) in security matters in the South Pacific Region, which includes the islands of Micronesia, where the US military bases are concentrated. New Zealand in this scheme was assigned the role of Australia's “junior regional partner”, whose role in regional security matters was extremely small. In many ways, this attitude towards New Zealand was formed due to the leadership of this country not accepting any interactions with nuclear weapons (since 1984 the NZ has been officially a nuclear-free country), which at one time already caused the severance of allied relations with the United States (1987).

However, the economic and political rapprochement with China allowed NZ to declare the country's new role in regional security issues. In 2017, the state became the initiating country of the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which significantly increased its political status. The country formally announced the abandonment of the US “nuclear umbrella” in exchange for maintaining its political position. Accordingly, the previous hierarchy, where Australia was the “big brother,” ceased to exist and states began to act independently.

New Zealand began to actively conduct military exercises with the countries of Oceania, which are part of the “Mutual Assistance Program” put forward by the government, under which New Zealand pledges to provide financial assistance to the islands of Oceania, exchange experiences and conduct joint military exercises. Given that the Philippines, Thailand and Brunei joined the program (in the military unit), the program may soon receive regional status. The competition between Australia (which historically was considered the “curator” behind this trend) and New Zealand became apparent.

Australia, in turn, relies on its main ally, the United States, in global issues of regional security (there is a military agreement under which the United States undertakes to protect Australia in the event of an attack). However, less important issues are referred to the independent management of Australia: protecting trade routes from pirate attacks, combating transnational crime, and carrying out peacekeeping and rescue operations.

An important role in regional security matters is Australia's commitment to counter-terrorism. In this component, cooperation agreements have been reached with the military forces of Singapore and Malaysia. Successful cases of Australia's cooperation in the ASEAN region on security issues led to the invitation of Australia as a participant in the meetings of the heads of the ASEAN Defense Ministries.

Considering the successful integration of Australia and New Zealand into the Asia-Pacific region in recent years, it is proposed to slightly review their role and use their periphery (the absence of unresolved contentious issues with the Asia-Pacific countries) to solve regional problems. Australia and New Zealand appear to be excellent actors for mediation in the many regional disputes present in the region. At the moment, it seems that the potential of these actors is little used (as in the case of New Zealand in the TPP) or is not used at all (as in the situation of conflict in the South China Sea).

It is also worth actively involving these states in charitable and humanitarian programs in the Asia-Pacific region, as states pay special attention to soft power. Separately, it is worth paying attention to establishing ties in the field of education, since in Australia and New Zealand it is carried out according to the “Western system,” which can “open the door” for the young generation of APR citizens to a different culture, which will contribute to the competent establishment of relations with Western partners in the future.

In matters of regional security, Australia and New Zealand will be useful in combating the non-traditional threats that are common in the Asia-Pacific region: terrorism, piracy, cybercrime. Due to the considerable technical equipment, these countries will be able to make a tangible contribution to the fight against these phenomena.

1. Young J. The belt and road initiative: a New Zeeland appraisal // New Zeeland contemprorary China research centre. 2018. 28 p.

2. Ibid.

3. NZ – New Zeeland (here and after)

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