PR: Foreign Minister Winston Peters appears on Q+A to talk about China and the Pacific "reset"
Foreign Minister Winston Peters is interviewed by Q+A’s Corin Dann, suggesting New Zealand’s approach to China will
change under the Labour-NZ First Government. He says New Zealand must do more to maintain its influence in the Pacific.
Q + A
Interviewed by Corin Dann
CORINAll right, well, joining me now is Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters. He’s waiting for me on the
set over here. Good morning to you, Mr Peters.
CORINHow was Australia?
WINSTONVery good, thanks.
CORINExcellent. You’ve announced a major foreign policy reset – quite a significant policy reset for this government. Why the
Pacific? Why is that your focus?
WINSTONWell, it’s our neighbourhood. It’s the place where we matter more, we can do more, and it matters that we, ah,
understanding of the changes that have happened in recent years in the Pacific and that both Australia and New Zealand
step up to the mark here.
CORINChanges – you mean the influence of China?
WINSTONWell, not all outside influences are good, and sometimes from the same country can come good influences and bad
influence. Our job is to ensure that the engagement of other countries in the Pacific is for the interests of the
Pacific and the security and prosperity of the neighbourhood.
CORINYou say China has had bad influences in the Pacific?
WINSTONI didn’t say that at all. I said other countries – in this case you could cite a number of countries whose interventions
have not been helpful. Our job is to ensure that the two countries that matter most, I believe, in the Pacific –
Australia and New Zealand – that we work closely together. We realise that for probably no time since 1945 have we
needed each other more than we do now to be the influence we should be if the Pacific is going to maintain the tranquil
peace that it currently has.
CORINLook, I know a lot of foreign policy is about tone and signalling. Are you signalling that this government might be
taking a slightly less proactive stance with China in terms of the relationship? You said in Sydney on Friday that you
felt maybe we signed up too quickly to this Belt and Road vision that President Xi has for much of the world. Do you
think that we need to slow down with China – pull back a little bit?
WINSTONLook, there are belts and roads all around the world. That’s, first of all, what you would hear from Europe, you’d hear
from the United States and other parts of the world as well, so let’s not get carried away with that. But I think the
speed with which they did it showed a lack of, in the case of New Zealand, preparation and thought and consideration as
to what it all means.
CORINThis is interesting, though, because New Zealand has been at the forefront of signing up firsts with China they love to
champion – first for the WTO, first free trade agreement—
WINSTONWell, we all know that, but let me tell you, within seven years they were trying to renegotiate that deal. The fact is
Australia did far better out of China than we did. We should own up to the fact that when things aren’t what they should
be then we need to dramatically improve them. Our deal with Korea wasn’t great. 173% tariffs is not fantastic, and
what’s most important – the CPTPPA is going to see us doing twice as well in terms of our tariff reductions than the
ones we’re currently enjoying in some countries.
CORINThe thing is with the Belt and Road, this is President Xi’s vision for the world. It’s an alternate vision, if you like,
to the American imperialism—whatever you want to call it – their push into the Pacific, their pivot. Are you saying that
we could pull out of it? Because we have signed a memorandum of understanding.
WINSTONNo. I didn’t say that. When you sign a memorandum of understanding, the question is what does it substantially, in
detail, mean? And neither Mr Key, Mr English or anybody in the National Party can tell you that.
CORINI just want to come back before I move on. What sort of sense can we take about your tone here? Are you signalling that
we need to take a soft—a slightly different approach in future with China that, say, the last government?
WINSTONIt’s in the speech. It is a case of shifting the dial. It’s a case of having our eyes wide open, and it’s specifically a
reset in circumstances where we must do far better than we’ve been doing. Our aid, for example, is on the decline to go
down to .21 from .30 just eight years ago. These sorts of things won’t stack up against countries with a big cheque book
who are printing money and are prepared to assist the Pacific, not always in the Pacific’s interests.
CORINBut there are consequences, aren’t there? I mean, we’re already hearing that Australia – which has taken, arguably, a
tougher line with China on things like the South China Sea and other areas of Chinese influence – is being—
WINSTONWell, so have we. We are—
CORINWell, have we?
WINSTONWe have. We say we’re for the rule of international law. We’re for the thing being sorted out in a peaceful way. But
there is a basis for it to be sorted out, and that’s the rule of law.
CORINThat’s not in the white paper that was put out by the last government, where it was in the Australian one.
WINSTONPrecisely. Well, I’m not defending the last government. I’m defending the rule of law, which the last government claimed
to support internationally, but did not mirror it in its report on that issue to do with the South China Seas. Now, we
don’t want to be engaged in anything other than a peaceful solution, and I would think the mass majority of countries in
Asia in particular want that to happen.
CORINYou know full well that the Chinese will be watching every word you’re saying right now. Are you worried that there
could be—? They don’t like public declarations about the South China Sea from New Zealand. I know that. Are you
WINSTONNo one has been more respectful of the place of modern China in the world than New Zealand First and Winston Peters.
Make that very clear. I’ve said so for a long, long time – the reason why I am concerned that our country has taken a
certain attitude is that they think they’re in the same league and they’re not. We are not. So our job is to ensure that
when we speak to China, if there are things we don’t agree with, we have the candour and the frankness and the
relationship to say so up front, rather than just remaining numbingly silent, as has been the case, when we don’t like
CORINIn the campaign trail, if I could just move back a little bit, you said, ‘All over the country, national and local
government politicians have talked of Chinese interests funding infrastructure. China is quietly starting to dominate
the lives of New Zealanders and clearly our economic direction. National must explain.’ What did you mean by that?
WINSTON(CHUCKLES) You just saw a guy on from Fletcher’s. What does he mean by 300 million-plus projects? Where’s this partner
that he’s talking about funding that? And then when you talk about, for example, the Marsden Point to Whangarei
super-highway that National promised, where was the partner for that? Well, that was Chinese as well. So what I’m
concerned about is when that sort of investment shades into undue influence and ownership, and we’re not the first
country to be worried about that.
CORINSo do think there is too much? Because, I mean, we’ve got Anne-Marie Brady’s report. We’ve got Rodney Jones, Michael
Reddell, others raising concerns and wanting a debate about Chinese influence in New Zealand – politics, but wider life.
Do you think there is too much influence?
WINSTONLook, if you’re concerned about too much Aussie influence when it comes to banking you should say so upfront, and I
have. If you think there’s been too much untoward American influence in this country in some ways then we should be
upfront and say so, and I have. It doesn’t matter where it emanates from. We’re a sovereign nation with a great
democracy with an unbroken line of holding elections since 1854. We’ve got something to stand up for and we mean
something in the Pacific. We’ve got people that regard us as their cousins and they’re looking to leadership from us.
They’re looking to standards in the best quality of government from us, and we demand the same, because our taxpayers’
money is engaged in the Pacific, from them. So it’s not going to be easy, but if we don’t make this intervention in a
positive way now and pick up our game, then our place in the world will be worse for it and the Pacific will be much
worse for it.
CORIN$26 billion dollars is the two-way trade between New Zealand and China. That’s been a remarkable success story. What’s
the problem here? This has been great for New Zealand.
WINSTONNo problem at all, except that as you well know that our greatest added value componentry in dairy – namely infant
formula, which is a potential $50 billion business – is now in the control of the Chinese economy. That’s what’s wrong
when people don’t have vision about what they’re dealing with, because the Chinese would have bought our infant formula
regardless, but now they’ve got control of the New Zealand production, the approval of construction formation of those
industries and the marketing of it into China. What am I going to do about it? Well, I’m alerting you and the rest of
the country as to who failed in the past and how we don’t intend to fail in the future.
CORINAll right. Let’s flip this around to Donald Trump. I mean, you could argue that surely his influence now is far worse
than China. He’s talking about trade wars. He’s going to put tariffs in into America on steel and he’s saying trade wars
are easy to win. I mean, how concerning is that?
WINSTONLook, this is not new. Bill Clinton slammed a serious tariff on New Zealand steel. Have you forgotten that? That was
over 20 years ago.
CORINNo, this is new. This is a broad-based tariff that has already sparked talk of retaliation from Europe. They’ve been
specific about bourbon from the US. This is a trade war. That’s the danger. It’s about New Zealand, is it? It’s about a
trade war, and how concerned are you? And will you raise it with the United States?
WINSTONWell, let me just say this here – we are a country that has spent an incredible amount of time being a good friend to
the United States, and yet Morocco and Chile have free trade deals and we don’t. How do you explain that? So in short,
we’re not going to go around kowtowing to anybody in our national interest. What we’re going to do is stand up for
things that are important in this world, and there are a growing number of countries around the world beginning to
understand that. The Indians are starting to understand now. The Japanese do.
CORINSo should we retaliate?
WINSTONWell, the Americans aren’t in the CPTPPA, are they?
CORINNo, but we could make a symbolic gesture that we think that talking of trade wars is a disaster for a small country in a
WINSTONI do not think that we have the capacity, with the greatest of respect, to retaliate against the United States.
CORINBut it’s symbolic, isn’t it? I mean, surely as a country we need to stand up. We’re a proponent of free trade.
WINSTONWell, if symbolism leaves your businesses and industry starving and the people in the street far worse off then it’s not
CORINSo you’re not worried about Donald Trump talking openly about winning trade wars?
WINSTONLook, I am far more concerned to talk to a rational, sane, stand-out person who has got a great background in business
called Rex Tillerson, because in the end—
CORINSure. Can you ring him up and raise concerns about it?
WINSTONBecause in the end, foreign policy is about the relationship between people, not temporarily empowered politicians.
CORINYeah, but he’s not making any exemptions—they’re not making any exemptions for New Zealand.
WINSTONWell, I just told you, the last person to slam a tariff on New Zealand steel was a guy called Bill Clinton, and he was
over here being feted by Jenny Shipley and everybody else. Do you remember that? Sort of, just, only 20, 21 years ago.
Now, with respect, nothing’s new about this, and there always was a time when there was going to be a reaction. What was
the American campaign about? The American campaign was about small people, small businesses being totally shut out
because of the vagaries of globalism. It’s what Brexit was about in the end. It’s what the Australian election, which
saw the upper house in parliament totally hung and 10 seats lost in the last snap election—
CORINAre you saying you’re sympathetic with this protectionist measure?
WINSTONNo, no, no. I’m not saying I’m sympathetic. I’m saying let’s have our eyes wide open here. Let’s be realistic, rather
than dumbing down statements which take us nowhere, and see the disparity between our exports to China against our
imports just grow larger and larger. That deficit is all debt.
CORINAll right. A couple of quick things. I’ve got your coalition agreement here. It’s one of my favourite documents to read.
CORINThe last thing on it on foreign policy says you would record a Cabinet minute regarding the lack of progress prior to
the National-led government’s sponsorship of the UN resolution on Israel and the occupied territories. New Zealand was
criticised a lot from Israel and other pro-Israeli countries. Have you recorded a cabinet minute on that?
WINSTONIt’s lack of process, not progress.
CORINYes, process, sorry. Let’s be clear.
WINSTONWhat happened was before Christmas 2016, they got railroaded by interests actually for New Zealand offshore into a
pre-Christmas denunciation of Israel without that going – as is required by the Cabinet manual – to go to Cabinet. And
then it went to Cabinet, and we were saying straight-up, we don’t like processes which are just ignored when they’re in
the national interests of—
CORINSo you’ve recorded the minute? It’s been recorded?
CORINJust quickly, why? Is it because of the process or is it because you’re concerned that we should never have done that,
that that resolution was wrong?
WINSTONOh, look, you had that happen. You had the claim that we had to make that compensatory statement in Saudi Arabia because
we were being sued. That was a lie. We were never being sued in Saudi Arabia, and no one’s being held responsible. I
want to know why we’re offshore doing serious foreign policy things without following the process, and we recorded our
disquiet about that last week.
CORINOK, so that’s on the record. Just a couple of quick questions about the coalition. I know you’re not big on polls – fair
enough – but they have shown—
WINSTONGuess why I’m not big on polls.
CORIN(CHUCKLES) Because you—
WINSTONBecause your polls are chaff, and I’ve gone through campaign after campaign, more than probably anybody else, where
sometimes I’ve been down at one—
CORINI agree with you. You will come back strongly in the campaign.
WINSTONWell, if you agree with me, can you stop your— TV 1 publishing them? Because they’re nonsense.
CORINAre you concerned that maybe some of the others in New Zealand First – supporters of New Zealand First – might be
worried when they look at the polls and see you being swallowed up by the larger party? Is there anything you can do
WINSTONWe’re not being swallowed up. First of all, get the lexicon or the language right. This is a Labour-New Zealand First
coalition. I don’t want to hear you talking about Labour-led this and Labour doing that when you know it’s a coalition.
Other countries after 21 years of change would surely grasp the lexicon or the language. Why can’t the New Zealand
media? But that’s not new. It tends to happen in all areas of New Zealand society. But more importantly, I’m looking at
where we’re going to from here, and we’re building our legacy as we speak with a huge initiative out in the provinces
and, dare I say it, being the soul and the heart of a new government. When I say that, Mr Parker and I agree entirely
about the CPTPPA. He was the leader of the changes in Da Nang and the Philippines.
WINSTONBut he went to the wire, and I’m proud of the fact that he did it. He deserves an enormous amount of credit. We agree
CORINA couple of quick questions. Firstly, the Greens have come out yesterday – they look like they’re trying to
differentiate – with a transparency policy. They don’t want to accept any corporate responsibility – tickets to rugby
matches or something. Will you match them on that?
WINSTONWell, let me just tell you, we’re required to match them now. That’s what the Cabinet rules say. I don’t know which part
of that they missed, but the Cabinet rules specify that now. Just one last thing – you don’t see any huge money behind
New Zealand First, do you? Go and have a look at the returns when they come in as to who got what money in the last
election, or the one before that, or the one before that. Other parties are awash with money, and we have to make one
eighth or sometimes one sixth of the money go as far.
CORINAnd just finally, how’s the relationship with Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister? Do you think some of her positivity has
rubbed off on you?
WINSTONYes, well, she is seriously positive, (LAUGHS) to be honest, and to be honest, it’s a very attractive quality.
CORINThat’s an interesting word, Winston Peters. (CHUCKLES)
WINSTONOh, well, let’s just—
CORINNo, I don’t mean like that. I just mean—
WINSTONYeah, but let’s have an end to this PC attitude and the language police we’ve got. Sometimes—I mean, if somebody says
that Simon Bridges is an attractive man, is everybody going to get offended with that? Why don’t we just grow up and
realise that we live in a modern world where people express themselves differently?
CORINVery good. Winston Peters, Foreign Minister, thank you very much for your time.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.