NZ vs the World: How Trump, North Korea and the refugee crisis will test us

In many ways, New Zealand occupies a privileged position. Being two far-flung, isolated islands, we are a world away from ongoing conflict in Syria, famine in Yemen, and the refugee crisis in Europe. 

North Korea's unpredictable dictator is unlikely to provocatively fly a missile into New Zealand's seas. United States President Donald Trump is largely uninterested in a country of four million in the middle of a large ocean.

But we are kidding ourselves if we think these global issues can't touch us.

New Zealand will have to tread carefully to avoid being dragged into the power struggle between global super powers China and the United States.

While North Korea seems far away, instability in the Asia-Pacific region could have dramatic effects on New Zealand.

Newshub spoke to three experts across the country for their take on their biggest challenges in international relations the Government will face in 2018.

Donald Trump's America

Disarray in the Trump Administration and its dislike or distrust of organisations like the United Nations could cause problems for the New Zealand Government.

New Zealand "found itself very comfortable with the Obama Administration and not so comfortable with the Trump Administration," Dr Robert Patman from Otago University says. 

The Obama Administration "worked careful and cordially with the John Key Government" in discussions on trade, as well as in key attempts to maintain stability and restrain the nuclear arms race.

It's "completely different" under Mr Trump, Dr Patman says.

"We take the UN very seriously as a small country that needs rules to make its way in the world. We see the UN as a pivotal part of the international architecture. 

"The Trump Administration does not."

The new Labour-led Government faces a tougher test with Trump then National did with Obama.
The new Labour-led Government faces a tougher test with Trump then National did with Obama. Photo credit: Getty

Part of the difficulty with working with Trump's America is its more insular ideology compared to the Obama Administration - but that's only part of it.

Chaos and instability in the White House could mean deals with New Zealand simply idle on the side-lines. 

Professor Stephen Hoadley from the University of Auckland says New Zealand's ready to talk about a trade deal with the United States, but discussions haven't started.

"Problems lie partly with Trump for not creating an orderly administration that would do the business around the world, including with New Zealand," Dr Hoadley said.

"But New Zealand stands ready and has had assurances they could start up some time this year. The challenge will be to move this forward."

Balancing between two superpowers

The Trump Administration sometimes demands loyalty in a way the Obama Administration did not, says Otago's Dr Patman.

But there's a second world superpower New Zealand needs to consider: China.

We currently have a good relationship with both powers, but they are locked in a power struggle.

"New Zealand, because it has an independent foreign policy, has to be very careful not to align itself to one at the expense of the other. It's a balancing act. It needs attention," Dr Patman says.

Prime Minister Ardern will need to ensure NZ's relationship with China doesn't offend the US.
Prime Minister Ardern will need to ensure NZ's relationship with China doesn't offend the US. Photo credit: Getty

"One of the diplomatic challenges we face is maintaining equilibrium with two superpowers we have good relations with, but we're not completely at one with them in their world outlook."

If New Zealand's not careful, it could go the way of Australia. China regards Australia as politically much closer to the United States, Dr Patman says.

Unpredictability and conflict with North Korea

Escalation of conflict in North Korea would impact New Zealand - along with countries like Japan and Vietnam.

With 70 percent of our trade in the Asia-Pacific region, "we have a big stake in that problem being resolved", Dr Patman said.

Conflict in North Korea could seriously hamper NZ's economic stability in Asia.
Conflict in North Korea could seriously hamper NZ's economic stability in Asia. Photo credit: AAP

Dr Hoadley says the challenge is the whisper of a voice New Zealand has next to giants China and the United States.

"New Zealand doesn't figure amongst these well-armed players very strongly," so New Zealand will have to act as a moral voice.

We have "a stellar track record opposing nuclear weapons, and indirectly, long-range missiles, small arms, chemical weapons, land mines," so it would be wise to leverage off that, he said.

The refugee crisis

The number of refugees New Zealand takes is "humble if not shameful", but if the new Government is going to take more leadership on the issue, they should do it now, says University of Canterbury's Dr Pascale Hatcher. 

The UN's refugee resettlement arm UNHCR estimates there are 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 22 million refugees.

"This is New Zealand's opportunity to show far more leadership than Australia," Dr Hatcher said, but with a new Government in power, "as we say in French, if they are going to put their pants on, it should be now."

New Zealand takes far-fewer refugees than most other first-world countries per-capita.
New Zealand takes far-fewer refugees than most other first-world countries per-capita. Photo credit: Getty

The Labour-led Government will increase the refugee quota to 1500. 

Australia - which has five times the population of New Zealand - has a refugee quota of 20,000.

"Given that this discussion with continue with Australia… strategically, New Zealand should definitely be stepping up."

The gulf between Winston Peters' ideology and Labour's

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Trade Minister David Parker are not always on the same page when it comes to foreign affairs.

Dr Patman says differences can probably be worked out, but they could be a challenge internally.

The first area of difference raised its head early. 

Mr Peters is so keen on a trade deal with Russia that he negotiated a promise to work toward one in the New Zealand First coalition deal. But Ms Ardern "moved quickly to say the free trade priority is with the European Union," Dr Patman said.

"We have to remember that Mr Peters was a supporter of Brexit in the past, and both Mr English and Ms Ardern believe a free trade agreement with Britain, although important, is not as important as a free trade agreement with the EU."

New Zealand's role in tackling climate change

"Climate change is my generation's nuclear-free moment," Jacinda Ardern said from the stage at Labour's campaign launch in August.

"For someone that uses these terms, how can you refuse to commit to stopping deep sea oil exploration?" Dr Hatcher from the University of Canterbury asked.

"As of now, New Zealand does not figure very highly in terms of tackling climate change. 

Dr Hatcher says for the Government to take the lead on the global challenge of climate change, the power of the dairy industry will need to be addressed.

Newshub.

 

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