Is Winston Peters playing the PM on foreign policy?

Guest post from Gezza


Interesting Opinion Piece by Patrick Smellie:

US and Chinese officials met in Beijing this week for the first talks since both countries’ presidents agreed a trade war ceasefire at last month’s G-20 summit in Argentina.

By early March, they need a plan that simultaneously softens the impact on China of the US’s new embrace of protectionism while starting to deal with China’s rampant intellectual property theft and subsidies that make its state-backed corporations unfair global competitors.

In doing so, both leaders will be seeking a win for their respective domestic audiences.

Getting there will be no mean feat. The Chinese ‘long view’ of history is a powerful organising principle for the Middle Kingdom’s global ambitions. Unlike Trump, its leadership is capable of thinking long-term.

I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment. Trump is capable of thinking long-term. He just isn’t capable of seeing other viewpoints and considering them, or of understanding what motivates others, or of adapting his negotiation strategies when it’s evident he could approach things differently. Or of concentrating enuf on details to foresee adverse consequences or opposition that could work against him.

He’s a rich kid who’s always done whatever it takes to get what he wants. And that includes lying, going bankrupt, and paying people to arrange for him to then profit from the misery & poverty that’s sometimes caused others. His narcissism works well for him when he’s in total control & surrounded by sycophants who will do his bidding. Or when he can cheat and lie & get away with it because he can bankrupt less wealthy opponents or victims, and for him the ends (getting what he wants) has always justified any means.

But now he’s not in total control. So he’s often chaotically flailing around in pursuit of long-term plans that he might deliver, but might screw up because he’s so flawed he makes people want to get rid of him to stop the chaos and division and wrecking of America’s standing in the world.

The talks also occur against a backdrop of heightened competition for defence and security influence around the world.

There has been questionable co-ordination between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Foreign Minister and deputy Winston Peters over our relationships with China and the US.
The US-led initiative to keep Chinese-built Huawei and ZTE componentry out of Western 5G mobile networks represents the sharp point of intersection in trade and security tensions.

Nations try to pursue security and trade agendas on separate tracks, but one inevitably bleeds into the other in ways. At best, at a global level, these current tensions may be bad for global economic growth. At worst, they could become the catalyst for conflict, which an American president desperately seeking to project strength might embrace.

For New Zealand, this simultaneous escalation of trade and security tensions between our traditional western ally and our largest trading partner is fraught with the risk of becoming collateral damage in the ensuing contest of empires. As a member of the Five Eyes cyber-spying network, New Zealand sits on the US side of the anti-Huawei fence. But it also seeks an upgraded free trade agreement and legitimately worries that Beijing could turn off the tap on agricultural exports, international students, Chinese tourists – or all three.

Australia has already suffered for its more emphatically pro-US stance.

We should never put all our eggs in one basket. Both the US and the Chinese can punish us economically for simply pursuing our own issues-based foreign policy when they want to bully us into siding with them or opting out in disputes between their economic and foreign policy initiatives and engagements.

Wider free trade with as many other nations as possible is clearly desirable, but trade in what? As other countries are forced by Trade Agreements to become more productive and competitive with our major food exports, what else do we have?

Clearly, the New Zealand government needs to pursue any rebalancing in the relationships to the two biggest protagonists in our region with great care.

Just before Christmas, there were worrying signs to suggest such care is, if not absent, then lacking, with questionable co-ordination between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Foreign Minister and deputy Winston Peters.

The Ardern approach embraces multi-lateralism, ‘progressive’ free trade agreements that do more to protect national sovereignty than in the past, and a new demonstration of leadership on climate change. On the world stage, Ardern has shone as a beacon of optimism and inter-generational leadership change.

That may be how she is portrayed here but apart from US female talk show hosts, who else in the world cares? So she’s a minor celebrity abroad with people who don’t count. What impact will she have on other world leaders? How many other young intergenerational leaders are there who will hearken to her siren song and make the world a kinder place? Isn’t her government rather chaotic and it’s benefits and drawbacks & objectives all rather fuzzy? Could it all just crash and burn? Hope not, but I just don’t know until we know what the werkinggruppes produce for them to make (or justify) policies from – and what they ignore.

Meanwhile, Peters and NZ First Defence Minister Ron Mark have made the running on defence and security policy in ways that are pulling New Zealand much closer to the US.

Mark’s defence strategy paper saw New Zealand explicitly criticise China’s expansionism in the South China Sea for the first time and his announcement of a multi-billion dollar upgrade of air force surveillance capability to include potential for anti-submarine weaponry were highly significant nods to Washington DC.

Peters took that a step further last month. In a speech to an elite US audience on the Pacific region shortly before meetings with deputy vice-president Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Peters said: “We unashamedly ask the United States to engage more and we think it is in your vital interests to do so.”

Time was “of the essence” as “larger players are renewing their interest in the Pacific with an attendant level of strategic competition”. These and other parts of the speech represented serious new lines in the sand for New Zealand foreign policy.

We probably should want the US to engage more in the South Pacific. China’s interest is self-interest. And the degrading of American influence & power is vital to that. But do we want to engage more with the US under Trump? Really? Trump’s interest is American self-interest. Hopefully when Trump is gone – which may be by 2020 – sanity and a more careful, thoughtful President will make them take more of an interest in promoting & protecting the interests of free speech democracies in the South Pacific on both moral & shared interests grounds.

But when asked whether she had read the speech prior to delivery, let alone whether the Cabinet had discussed it, Ardern gave an almost breezy dismissal.

That is deeply worrying.

Regardless of whether Peters is articulating a revised foreign policy stance that the whole coalition government agrees with, such revisions require the active engagement of both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

Failing to insist on that fuels the narrative that Peters is successfully playing Ardern not only on domestic policy issues, but on foreign policy as well, leveraging his party’s impacts far beyond the mandate implied by its 5 per cent support at the 2017 election.

Ok. Maybe. So what? Is National likely to have any more of a coherent foreign policy or to do anything different?

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/109828977/is-winston-peters-playing-the-pm-on-foreign-policy

Foreign Affairs funding boosted by $1b with no clear plan

It was announced before this year’s budget that Foreign Affairs funding would be increased by nearly $1 billion, seen as a major policy win for Winston Peters (who is Minister of Foreign Affairs).

Documents obtained by Newsroom show that Treasury officials warned Peters’ ministry that there was no clear plan how the money would be spent – $1b foreign affairs boost against Treasury advice

Budget documents released by Treasury highlight the complex negotiations between Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, with discussions over the final dollar figure for MFAT funding going down to the wire.

A nearly $1 billion increase for foreign policy and international aid, including $715 million for New Zealand’s official development assistance (ODA) budget, was one of the Government’s major pre-Budget announcements.

However, Treasury documents show Peters initially wanted upwards of $1.5b, while Treasury recommended almost none of it be funded.

A Treasury briefing provided to Robertson in March ahead of his first Budget bilateral with Peters said the minister wanted an extra $1.2b over four years for the ODA budget.

He also wanted an extra $280m for MFAT’s capital budget, with the requested increase for operational spending redacted.

The ministry did not have a clear idea of the full cost of their capital projects or what strategic choices needed to be made, and was preparing on a long-term investment plan which would give the Government a better idea of what was needed.

The Treasury advice said a request for an extra 60 full-time staff was not backed up with evidence of its value, while there was a “weak strategic case” for reopening the Stockholm embassy, given the low level of trade links and the ability to manage the relationship within MFAT’s existing network.

Peters asked Minister of Finance for $1.5 billion and got nearly $1 billion.

After Robertson’s first meeting with Peters, he indicated to Treasury that he supported a “cash injection” for ODA, as well as funding some of MFAT’s cost pressures.

Treasury also recommended providing capital funding for the new Stockholm post and money for an additional 12 staff – some way short of the 60 Peters asked for and the 50 he eventually received.

Discussions over the final foreign affairs package came down to the wire, with an email sent on April 4, days before Robertson had to sign off on a final version of the Budget Cabinet paper, noting he was still locked in discussions with Peters and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A few days later, Robertson’s office contacted Treasury saying there had been a late agreement to move money out of the APEC hosting budget and put it towards the ODA funding.

This appears to show how much sway Peters had over Labour.

Peters said Treasury’s argument against the funding was “frankly not in the interests of our country”, given an effective 10-year funding freeze for MFAT.

“The underfunding had started to bite, undermining our ability to maintain New Zealand’s independence as an international actor projecting our distinct values.”

It was “shocking” that New Zealand’s ODA had dropped as a share of gross national income from 0.3 percent to 0.23 percent, Peters said, weakening the country’s hand in the Pacific “at the very time the region has become a more crowded and contested strategic space”.

There were funding pressures all over Government. NZ First managed to negotiate some major boosts in Foreign Affairs, plus the $1 billion per year for Shane Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund.

Peters also got tax concessions for his friends in thoroughbred racing, and intends using the Provincial Growth Fund to boost racing further.

Greens got very little in comparison, albeit from a much weaker negotiating position and lacking negotiating experience.

Labour bumped a few things up, with major increases to Working for Families, the tertiary free fees scheme and Kiwibuild, but they had cited many other priorities like health, education, justice and prisons, and poverty, that have struggled with a lack of money.

Why is Winston Peters Foreign Minister?

  asks: Why is Winston Peters Foreign Minister?

I’m wondering this today because one of the books I read over the break talks about proportional representation in Germany, and how the system gave disproportional power to the third party (the FDP).

And the FDP exercised this by making their leader the Foreign Minister when they went into governing coalitions. And when the FDP declined and the German Greens became the kingmakers, their leader Joschka Fischer became the foreign Minister.

And this is Peters’ second round in the same position and he’s chosen the same portfolio. So that seems to be a thing. But Foreign Minister seems like a bad portfolio to have when you’re leader of a minority party in government!

You’re out of the country almost all of the time. It’s hard to stay in the loop, either with your own party or broader political developments. It’s the job Prime Ministers traditionally give to valuable but ambitious rivals or caucus trouble-makers to keep them out of mischief.

And its hard to deliver on retail politics or distribute pork from that position. Peters, like McCully before him will doubtless find a way, but certainly nothing as lavish as Shane Jones will deliver with his infrastructure fund.

It is a VERY prestigious post, though. You get to meet kings and queens and drive through Beijing in a motorcade! Do (some) third parties favour the Foreign Ministry because it’s the most prestigious position in government that a major party will concede?

Or is there some other political advantage to the position I don’t know about?

One possibility is that it is part of Winston’s succession plan.

He gets to hold the top position that NZ First has gets to hob nob with governments and royalty around the world, and gives the rest of the NZ First MPs some space to work out how to work together without him hovering over them all the time.

When he is out of the country media are forced to go to a different NZ First MP for comment on party related issues.

Shane Jones being given five ministerial positions including the regional pork distributor suggests he is Winston’s favoured successor. His portfolios:

  • Minister of Forestry
  • Minister for Infrastructure
  • Minister for Regional Economic Development
  • Associate Minister of Finance
  • Associate Minister of Transport

That covers key NZ First policies and gives him an influence in Finance. And is too much work for Peters, especially if he is considering retirement by the end of this term.

Deputy Ron Mark has been given relatively lightweight and inconsequential (for NZ First) portfolios:

  • Minister of Defence
  • Minister for Veterans

That doesn’t look like leader-in-waiting level responsibilities – but it gives Mark more opportunity to campaign and lobby to take over the party should Peters step down.

Another reason for Foreign Affairs for Peters could be Labour’s doing. He is (on paper at least) our #2 politician and deputy Prime Minister, so he will probably get to act as the big cheese occasionally and briefly, but most of the time he is out of the country and out of sight, so gives him little chance to grandstand over Jacinda Ardern.

Foreign Affairs is also a job Peters has done before so knows the ropes, so it will be easier for him than taking on a major domestic workload that he would first need to familiarise himself with.

And it could be that Peters just likes Foreign Affairs, and wanted a job he would enjoy.

Brownlee, Brownlee, Brownlee

Was it a slow news day yesterday, or was the appointment of Gerry Brownlee as new Minister of Foreign Affairs big news.

Whichever, Brownlee features prominently in Stuff political news.

Live: Brownlee new Foreign Minister
Nikki Kaye to be Minister for Education, Gerry Brownlee Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Brownlee to take on foreign affairs
PM Bill English has announced his new Cabinet and it’s Gerry Brownlee that won the battle for foreign affairs.

Brickbats and bouquets for Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee exits Christchurch a controversial, contrary figure
Six and a half years after it started, one of the more remarkable tenures in New Zealand politics is over. Next week, Gerry Brownlee will no longer be in charge of the Christchurch rebuild. He is relinquishing all of his ministerial roles except one to become the next foreign affairs minister.

Brownlee’s paradoxical legacy
Christchurch reacts to Gerry Brownlee relinquishing rebuild job

Brownlee’s promotion the easy call
For all his “bluntness” and an occasional diplomatic gaffe – anyone remember how he thought Finnish people were uneducated and disrespectful? – Gerry Brownlee was the safest choice Prime Minister Bill English could make when he was looking for someone to replace Murray McCully in foreign affairs.

Brownlee recalibrates for role
Brownlee switches from combative to diplomatic as he prepares for new role.

If he’s like most Foreign Ministers Brownlee will now virtually disappear overseas.