INDEPENDENT NEWS

British High Commissioner Speech To The NZIIA: In An Unstable World, Standing With Our Friends Is Needed More Than Ever

Published: Wed 15 May 2024 05:19 AM
Tuesday 14 May 2024
Tēnā koutou katoa, mihi atu ki te Whare Tawāhi-a-mahi i Aotearoa me te manaakitanga o te kaupapa o te rā nei. Tenei te mihi ki te mana whenua me te tau iwi katoa, tena koutou.
Thank you everyone for joining me today.
I come from a life which in its infancy was international. I was born in Germany where my father, who worked in international insurance, was based. We lived in Germany, Belgium and the US, and I didn’t move to England until I was 17.
And it is perhaps that international upbringing which planted the seed for a career which is centred on the international – diplomacy. My first overseas posting was to New York where I was the UK’s press spokesperson at the United Nations for three years. My next posting was as the Deputy Head of Mission to Libya, and then Pakistan before coming to New Zealand in 2022.
And travel is something that remains constant in a diplomat’s life. Whether between different postings, or once in a role. I travel often to Auckland, with a consulate office here and the bulk of our trade team based here, Auckland is a key part of the UK in NZ network.
I regularly travel further afield from Wellington and Auckland, into New Zealand’s towns and regions. Dunedin, Nelson, Gisborne to name a few.
I am yet to visit a farm during lambing season, but that is on the list.
In a visit to Nelson last month, I had the opportunity to speak to students about my role as High Commissioner, what is it I, and my team do, and why it is important in today’s world. The ‘why’ is what brings us together today.
The increasingly unstable and chaotic world can seem far away when speaking to people from the vineyards around Marlborough or the mountains of Otago, but the impact is very relevant and more immediate than it might initially seem.
This decade is becoming increasingly characterised by accelerating instability and standing with our friends is needed now more than ever.
This evening I’ll set out what the UK seeks to achieve internationally and how it can only be achieved through cooperation with our friends and partners, like New Zealand. And why they matter.
From Operation Interflex which supports Ukraine, to HMS Tamar’s joint work with New Zealand and Fiji in policing illegal fishing in the Pacific.
As we discuss these issues let us remember the words of the British Parliamentarian and philosopher from the Georgian era: Edmund Burke: "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."
Amidst the tumultuous currents of global affairs, it is natural to question the significance of partnerships forged across continents and oceans.
As we confront an array of complex challenges – from geopolitical tensions to climate crises to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East – the answer becomes abundantly clear to me.
The relationship between New Zealand and the UK is a beacon of stability, cooperation, and shared values in an uncertain world.
Geographically, the UK and New Zealand are far apart. However, the connections linking us form the bedrock of shared friendship and shared aspiration to achieve greater things.
New Zealand is not too small, not too far removed to make a difference on the world stage. By existing in a global web of partnership, it has made - and continues to make - a difference on the world stage.
Our people are intertwined. Sharing in the lives of both nations. Bridging distances with bonds of kinship and understanding.
From the bustling streets of my home city, London, to the breath-taking landscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand, we are bound by a common commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
But as we have seen all too clearly in recent years, this is not a commitment shared by all globally, nor one to be taken for granted.Ukraine
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine violates all norms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The Ukrainian people have been living a life that is a result of one nation abandoning those basic principles we commit to.
Families devastated. Cities levelled. Lives irrevocably changed.
It is a sobering reminder of the fragility of democracy and the ever-present threat of instability.
The need for collective action and unwavering support from allies has never been more pressing.
Russia abandoned any pretensions of being a responsible global power by opting to break the most fundamental of international rules and seeking to conquer its neighbour’s territory.
Turning to Iran and North Korea for military support is a sign of how far Russia’s standing has been damaged.
While the war in Ukraine can seem distant here in New Zealand, it has had profound implications across the globe from spiralling fuel and food costs to undermining world-wide stability that depends on nation states operating within international law.
Putin’s contempt has only been highlighted by the actions of his coercive, authoritarian regime.
I am proud of the work that the United Kingdom and our partners have done to stand against that aggression, and of the way that New Zealand’s government and people have supported Ukraine.
It has not, and will not be easy. But challenging times are a chance for nations to stand up to the challenge.
To do the right thing even when it is hard.
The UK has provided close to $14.5 billion to support Ukraine, which includes an extra $2.5 billion in military spending for 2024/25.
We have trained 60,000 Ukrainian personnel and provided more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition for the Challenger 2 tanks that Britain has donated.
We have introduced the largest and most severe package of sanctions ever imposed on Russia or indeed any major economy.
Supported by New Zealand, the work of Operation Interflex, the training of Ukrainian soldiers on Salisbury Plain, has provided practical and important support to the war effort.
The New Zealand Government’s announcement in February of further funding and a commitment to continue training Ukrainian soldiers was incredibly welcome.
I point this out because the response to Ukraine cannot be maintained by one nation. But all nations who disagree with this illegal invasion.
Why?
Putin is betting on fatigue. Gambling on a scenario where Ukraine’s allies pack up and go home.
A bet where their ‘unlimited partnership’ with China reaps benefits of authoritarian regimes increasingly acting together.
But this is a poor bet. We are with Ukraine to the end.
But imagine a world where that does happen.
Where Russia wins.
A world where countries can invade one another for territorial gain with impunity and blithely threaten the use of nuclear weapons.
Where the right to self-determination does not exist and where countries cannot act in legitimate self-defence.
A world that we all hoped had been left behind in the darkest days of the twentieth century.Conflict in Gaza
Just as the conflict in Ukraine underscores the necessity of standing together with our allies to uphold peace and stability, so too does the conflict in Gaza.
The challenges we face in these regions differ in nature, but the fundamental principles remain the same.
The pursuit of peace.
The situation in Gaza is desperate. The UK wants to bring the conflict to a sustainable end as quickly as possible.
Too many lives have been lost and there is an urgent need to get more aid to the people of Gaza to prevent a famine. Israel has made some progress in allowing more aid into Gaza, but more must be done.
Let me be clear, Israel suffered an appalling terrorist attack on 7 October – the deadliest in its history. It has the legitimate right to self-defence exercised in line with international humanitarian law.
But this conflict serves no one. Both sides can see that it isn’t leading where they want.
The fastest way to end the conflict is to secure a deal which gets the hostages out and allows for a pause in the fighting in Gaza.
We must then work with our international partners to turn that pause into a permanent ceasefire.
This is much easier said than done. There is however, a narrow path ahead. A path which only through co-operation can be made into a wider path for a lasting peace.
Hamas must release the hostages immediately. Nothing can justify their continued detention. Their families are showing great courage in horrific circumstances.
At the same time we must push as hard as we can to get aid to Palestinian civilians. We have trebled our aid commitment, and are trying to get more aid in as quickly as possible by land, sea and air.
New Zealand has played its part with nearly $20 million being donated so far since October.
We must support a deal which would secure a pause in the fighting and deescalate the situation in the wider region.
This builds momentum towards a lasting peace. Where Hamas cannot threaten Israel and where there is a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution.
We must give the people of the West Bank and Gaza a credible route to a democratic future. A Palestinian state.
Palestinians governed by Palestinians.
A Palestine rid of a terrorist regime. An Israel that is safe and protected.
That is the goal we are aiming for. A goal that can only be achieved together with our friends and partners around the world.
As we confront the urgent humanitarian crisis in Gaza, we are reminded of the broader complexities of global security and the necessity of coordinated efforts to address them.
The situation in Gaza highlights the imperative need of international collaboration in resolving conflicts and promoting stability.The Pacific
Just as the situation in Gaza underscores the importance of immediate action, the challenges in the Indo-Pacific demand a strategic and collective approach to uphold stability and promote shared prosperity.
The region has become a critical arena for navigating complex strategic rivalries, economic opportunities and threats.
We know that the biggest existential challenge to Pacific Island Countries is climate change. The impacts of climate change affect livelihoods, health, even the very territorial integrity of these countries.
Let’s take Tuvalu, where it is estimated that by 2050 half the land area of the nation's capital Funafuti will become flooded by tidal waters.
No country is large enough to tackle this alone. No country is too small not to make a difference.
The UK is taking ambitious action domestically. Earlier this year it was officially confirmed that the UK had halved its emissions between 1990 and 2022 – the first major economy to achieve such a reduction. In this we have proved that cutting emissions does not have an economic cost.
The UK is committed to reducing emissions further with a target of 68% below 1990 by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
While I’m proud of the UK’s achievements, tackling climate change takes a global effort.
That’s why we’re working with NZ to improve access to renewable energy in the Pacific.
Beyond climate change the UK and NZ have been working together in partnership, making a difference across the Pacific region.
Our committed advocacy for the region comes from an understanding that a prospering Pacific is good for the world. Working in partnership with New Zealand is central to that goal.
This position stands in contrast to other actors, who are following a strategy of disruption to advance their wider desire to reshape the international order.
HMS Tamar recently undertook several patrols with Royal New Zealand Navy and Fijian Navy to counteract illegal fishing.
In contrast, fisherman from the Philippines have been harassed by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.
This threatens key principles and laws such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that underpin peace and global trade.
A partly UK funded scheme has seen Pacific Island Country police forces spend time in New Zealand learning how to deal with corruption.
The pacific will be centre stage, on the challenges we face. A unique, era defining opportunity for the region.
I point to this activity to illustrate the power that collaboration in the region can achieve compared to actions served in the self-interest.
As such, there is a fundamental need for a collective response that upholds the international norms and rules-based order that we have all worked so hard for over generations.
The UK recognises that to solve the world's problems, we need to engage with China while also being frank on their recent actions.
We have our eyes open on this.
In a speech last week the UK Foreign Secretary talked about how our future prosperity is only possible through our security and defence of the rules based order.
Where one supports the other in creating a brighter future.
It is in this context that I should probably address AUKUS. I know it has been the subject of much discussion lately.
So, I will start by stating what AUKUS is not. It is not an alliance.
AUKUS is not aimed at any one country, and it is not our intention to provoke anyone.
AUKUS is not in breach of nuclear-non-proliferation agreements.
So what is it?
AUKUS is a trilateral defence and security partnership, focused on joint capability development and technology sharing between the UK, USA and Australia.
It is designed to support and promote stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
It will provide Australia with nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarines.
Australia has been clear that as a non-nuclear weapon state, they do not, and will not, seek to acquire nuclear weapons.
We are developing a suitable safeguards and verification approach, in consultation with the IAEA, that delivers on our commitment to set the highest non-proliferation standard. An engagement that has been commended by the IAEA.
While AUKUS Pillar One will remain trilateral, we have always been clear that AUKUS partners would seek to cooperate with third-country collaborators on Pillar Two in due course.
We deeply value our enduring close partnership with New Zealand, and as Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Defence Minister Judith Collins commented recently, we will continue our engagement to discuss where New Zealand might have an interest in collaboration.
AUKUS is founded on a belief in a world that protects freedom and respects human rights, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states, and the rules-based international order.
Our goal is to support a free and open Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected, and states can make choices free from coercion, disinformation and interference; and disputes are peacefully resolved.
As we navigate through a landscape fraught with challenges, it is essential that we reaffirm our commitment to collective responsibility for our security and stability in the region.Beyond geography
Within and beyond this region we are working towards a goal of stability and prosperity. Where countries can trade with one another and work towards common goals.
The UK-NZ Free Trade Agreement is a perfect example of that potential. A gold-standard agreement that is acting as the launchpad for our two nations to prosper.
Beyond borders we see conflict, complexity and tension through cyberspace and the rapidly changing AI environment.
In the UK, actors affiliated with China have hacked our parliamentarians and the UK Electoral Commission. New Zealand has publicly confirmed that it too has suffered similar intrusion.
The UK AI summit last year, the first of its kind, put into view the scale of both the opportunity and risk that artificial intelligence presents. The Bletchley Declaration marked the beginning of that global conversation.
Next week the UK and the Republic of Korea will host the AI Seoul Summit which will again bring together leading AI nations from around the world, as well as CEOs of the world’s largest frontier AI companies, and the field’s most eminent experts.
This summit comes at a critical time for the technology, with increasingly capable and advanced AI models expected to be released.
Both New Zealand and the UK recognise the interconnected nature of cyberspace and the importance of working together to address common challenges and seize common opportunities and this is going to be one of the most important future areas of collaboration.CONCLUSION AND CALL TO ACTION
I started this speech hoping to make the case that in today’s world, standing with our friends is needed more than ever. We live in a complex world where there is no simple answer to our future.
In a rapidly evolving world, which stands at a crossroads, the imperative need for collaboration between New Zealand and the United Kingdom has never been clearer in my mind.
It is simply not enough to just acknowledge the importance of cooperation – we must actively embrace it.
Our world is an interconnected landscape – or in this region, more aptly a seascape.
For it to thrive it requires a collective commitment to uphold the values of democracy, human rights, and prosperity.
The protection and advancement of the ideals we hold dear cannot be done by one nation alone. Nor can it be led by one country alone but in a web of partnerships that span the globe.
Indeed, those ideals call out for collective responsibility at the heart of them.
Why is it important to stand with our friends more than ever? A more stable world is a more prosperous world.
A world that trades freely with one another.
A world that works together for peace.
A world where each country plays its part for the collective good.
Let us heed the wisdom of Edmund Burke, who reminds us that even the smallest actions can catalyse a prosperous future.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to forge even stronger ties, leveraging our complementary strengths.
Whether it be promoting sustainable development, fostering innovation, or championing multilateralism. Collaboration between the UK and New Zealand is not just advantageous – it is imperative.
Together, united in purpose and with determination.
In the coming years, as the winds of change continue to blow.
Let us embark on that journey. Together.
Kia pai tō rā koutou.
Thank you.

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