FOREIGN MINISTER MAHUTA: (Speaking In Māori.)
It’s my pleasure to welcome Secretary Blinken to Aotearoa New Zealand for the first time following several in-person meetings we have had in Washington, D.C. and Europe and most recently in Jakarta. Our meeting today builds upon our commitment to advance the strategic partnership between Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States set out in the joint statement from the former Foreign Minister Ardern’s meeting with President Biden at the White House last year.
The relationship between New Zealand and the United States is strong, wide-ranging, and growing. Our trade links continue to grow with the U.S. being our third-largest trade partner with over 22.9 billion in two-way trade last year. We value our security relationship and our strong defense connections. We’re also close partners on important 21st century challenges like space, cyber security, and on Antarctica. New Zealand views the U.S. among our closest friends and that our commitment to the international rules-based system has been designed to protect norms that work in the interests of all states irrespective of size.
I was pleased to have a warm in-person discussion with Secretary Blinken today covering many of our common interests and challenges that our two countries share. We discussed the functioning of the rules-based international system which has been fundamental to our prosperity and the challenges it faces in a more contested global environment in our Pacific region.
We highlighted our ongoing commitment to democracy and human rights and the strong interests we both have in supporting peace and stability in the region and globally. I particularly want to acknowledge the ongoing commitment the U.S. is showing to supporting the resilience of our Pacific partners, and indeed, our region.
The Secretary has arrived here having already visited Tonga, opening a post there, building on a commitment to be more present in our region, and we welcome it. We want to reaffirm that just as our bilateral relationship is important, what we do together within the region and in a multilateral sense continues to reinforce those values that we share in common.
We discussed our approaches to the Indo-Pacific security issues and our respective relationships in this region. We talked about our responses to Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine, and closer to home, we talked about the issues of our Pacific region and the things that we are grappling with and that we can work together on. We also spoke about ways to strengthen our bilateral relationship even further: whether that be deepening our economic ties – including through the successful conclusion of IPEF negotiations – building on strong people-to-people links that transverse families, friends, businesses, the arts like film and digital media, and links between iwi indigenous communities here in the United States, building off the visit of Secretary Haaland.
I took the opportunity to convey New Zealand’s support for the United States APEC host year, this year. (Inaudible) is right that we would welcome a U.S. return to the CPTPP. In the spirit of finding new frontiers for our partnership, the Secretary and I spoke about ways to deepen our cooperation, including on technology and through bilateral dialogue on critical and emerging technologies and, indeed, AI. Officials will begin exploratory discussions on the scope of this dialogue later this year.
As you all know, New Zealand is proudly co-hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup. There’s nothing like a bit of sports diplomacy, and Secretary, we wish your team well. Welcome to New Zealand, and I’ll pass it now over to you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you so much, and good morning, everyone. Kia ora. Madam Foreign Minister, Nanaia, thank you. Thank you for the incredibly warm hospitality, but even more than that, the incredible quality and depth of our conversation, both the working dinner we had last night and our meeting today, and to you, to Prime Minister Hipkins, we’re really grateful for – on so many levels, which I’ll come to.
This is my first visit to New Zealand. I was going to say as Secretary. I have to acknowledge it’s my first visit to New Zealand period, long overdue, and some things in life actually occasionally exceed even your highest expectations, and I can safely say that’s already the case. It’s really wonderful to be here. The welcome ceremony that you honored us with today is something that I won’t ever forget, and I thank you for it.
Nanaia, with your permission, there is one word that I want to say about something that is not on our agenda, and that is that we are very closely monitoring the situation and developments in Niger. I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning, and made clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president of Niger. We call for his immediate release. We condemn any effort to seize power by force. We’re actively engaged with the Niger Government, but also with partners in the region and around the world. We’ll continue to do so until the situation is resolved appropriately and peacefully.
I also want to express the American people’s deepest condolences after last week’s shooting in Auckland. Our hearts are with the victims, with the survivors, with their families, with the people of New Zealand.
It’s especially in difficult moments that we’re reminded of the closeness of our friendship – a friendship that is rooted in common values, in common interests, and in the many connections between Americans and Kiwis. I especially want to thank our embassy team led by Ambassador Udall for their incredible work day in, day out to strengthen those ties between our countries and between our peoples.
The United States, as a Pacific nation, is deeply committed to realizing our shared vision for a free, open, prosperous, secure, resilient, and connected Indo-Pacific. And what does that mean? That means a region where countries are free to choose their own paths and their own partners; where problems are dealt with openly; where rules are reached transparently and implemented fairly; where people, where goods and ideas are able to move about lawfully and freely. This is a shared vision between the United States and New Zealand and many other countries in the region.
New Zealand has been a tremendous friend and leader on every issue of consequence in this region and well beyond, especially as the United States is working to revitalize our engagement with the Pacific Islands, as the foreign minister mentioned. Through the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative, our two countries are working together to deliver more effectively on shared priorities, to strengthen regional institutions like the Pacific Islands Forum, to enhance ties between our Pacific partners and those around the world. We’re providing more than $810 million to support the Pacific Islands – helping, for example, to expand digital connectivity so that people can be connected and have greater opportunity, addressing climate change, promoting inclusive economic growth.
And as I said as well yesterday when we were in Tonga and in our conversations here, our engagement has been positively and profoundly informed by New Zealand’s deep experience in the region. We’ve had many conversations over the last couple of years about this. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my friend and from our counterparts in the government, and that really has informed many of our own actions and engagement in the region.
We’re also advancing economic engagement and opportunity throughout the region. New Zealand has been a strong partner in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which helps economies grow faster and fairer by facilitating high-standard trade, by making supply chains more resilient, by promoting the clean energy transition, and also by combating corruption. We very much appreciate New Zealand’s support during our APEC host year and we’ll be looking forward to the APEC Summit later this year in San Francisco, which is focused on creating a more interconnected, a more innovative, and a more inclusive future for all.
With the Pacific on the front lines of the climate crisis, our two countries are working together to advance adaptation, to build resilience, to help other countries do the same. We’re trying to unlock more climate financing and developing climate-smart agriculture. We have scientists working together, researching sea-level rise in the Antarctic. New Zealand has also joined the United States and EU’s Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions 30 percent by 2030, which is a key element of our shared efforts to leave our children a more livable planet.
If we’re able to achieve that result and get buy-in from more and more countries to implement it – and we already have, I think, a hundred countries that have signed on – it’ll be the equivalent of taking all the planes out of the skies, ships off the seas, cars off the roads in terms of emissions. This can have a powerful impact.
Separately, as the foreign minister noted, we focused on some global challenges, where we’re working very closely together. As Russia wages its war of aggression against Ukraine, our two countries are united in standing with the Ukrainian people and for the principles at the heart of the UN Charter that are also being aggressed by Russia. New Zealand has provided essential assistance – training Ukrainian military personnel, funding efforts to remove landmines, delivering food, clean water, healthcare and other critical humanitarian assistance to people in need. The prime minister’s participation at this year’s NATO summit was a welcome demonstration of NATO’s work with our partners in the Asia Pacific, and notably New Zealand. And our two countries stand ready to support a just and lasting peace in Ukraine – based on the principles of sovereignty, of territorial integrity, and independence.
These are the same principles that underlie the rules-based international order we have been working to uphold in this region – and indeed against those who seek to undermine them or advance an alternative version anywhere in the world. We recognize that New Zealand has longstanding, complex relationships with countries in the Indo-Pacific, just as we do, and we’ll support all nations freely determining their relationships and their partnerships. We also believe together that we should use those relationships – both with allies and partners and with other nations – to defend and advance our affirmative vision for the Indo-Pacific, in which countries make their own sovereign decisions, free from coercion.
Ultimately, the partnership between the United States and New Zealand is rooted in our people and what we can do that helps them. That means continuing to advance the rights of our Indigenous communities, as Nanaia has throughout her remarkable career. It means championing LGBTQI+ rights – including through the Global Equality Fund, which New Zealand just joined last month.
Investing in our people also means bringing Americans and Kiwis even closer together, whether through our Young Pacific Leaders Program or, yes, on the football pitch. I cannot imagine a better co-host for the Women’s World Cup than New Zealand, which has both a tremendous tradition of athletic excellence and a longstanding commitment to women’s equality. As a lifelong lover of the game – participant as well, although at a rather mediocre level – I’m very much looking forward to cheering on our team this afternoon as they take on the Netherlands. But before that, I’ll turn it back over to you, Nanaia, and to our colleagues here. Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAHUTA: We’re going to take questions.
MODERATOR: Nanaia, thank you. We’ll start with Lloyd.
QUESTION: Nanaia, thank you very much. Lloyd Burr from News Hub. You’ve just used words like tremendous friends and close friends, Secretary of State. Is the U.S. comfortable with New Zealand’s close relationship with China? And on AUKUS, would you like New Zealand to join AUKUS, and what would be the point of that? What would be the benefit of us doing that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The second part first. On AUKUS, as we continue to develop it, as we continue to work particularly now on the second pillar, the door is very much open for New Zealand and other partners to engage, as they see appropriate, going forward. New Zealand is a deeply trusted partner, obviously a Five Eyes member. We’ve long worked together on the most important national security issues. And so as we further develop AUKUS, as I said, the door is open to engagement.
With regard to China, I think what is most striking to me, both here in New Zealand, in the region more broadly, as well as in Europe, in Northeast Asia, is an extraordinary convergence of approaches to dealing with the incredibly complex and consequential relationship that we all have with China. And I think if you look at what or listen to what the prime minister has said, what the foreign minister has said, as well as what we’ve said, you’ll see that, that convergence, that commonality of approach.
For the – from the perspective of the United States, we believe it’s our obligation to responsibly manage this relationship, and that starts with engagement, as you’ve seen. We’ve been doing exactly that in recent months; I was in Beijing followed by my counterpart, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, John Kerry, our climate envoy. Others will follow. We expect Chinese counterparts to come to the United States.
First and foremost it’s vital that, given the intense competition that we’re in – we have different visions, different views – it’s vitally important that we communicate, that we make sure that the competition doesn’t veer into conflict. And that really does start with talking, with engaging in a sustained way. That’s exactly what we’re doing. And we had very open, very candid conversations in Beijing, and I understand as well from the prime minister that had similar, I think constructive, engagements, and we think those are important for all of us to take part in.
It’s the best way, first of all, to try to manage our very real differences, to see if we can’t work through some of them, but also to find out if there are areas of cooperation where, in our mutual interests and the interests of many others, it makes sense that we find ways to work together. So that’s the course that we’re on, and I think, as I’ve seen it, as I’ve heard it expressed and I’ve seen it – as I’ve seen it carried out in practice, we have almost exactly the same approach as our partners here, throughout the region, and in Europe.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Abbie.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Abbie.
QUESTION: As you mentioned, significant developments in Niger overnight as President Bazoum was seized and his residence blocked. After speaking with the President earlier today, do you agree with African organizations who are calling this an attempted coup? Are U.S. embassy personnel on the ground safe? And how will this impact your counterterrorism operations in the region?
And Foreign Minister, how concerned are you that new policing and defense agreements between China and the Solomon Islands will undermine agreed-to Pacific security norms? And has Prime Minister Sogavare responded to your calls to immediately publish the details of the agreement?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start. Abbie, we are gravely concerned about the developments in Niger. And as I mentioned, I spoke with President Bazoum a few hours ago and made clear that we strongly support him as the democratically elected president of the country. I’ve also been in contact with other counterparts, including our French counterparts. My team, our team in the State Department have been in very close contact with partners in Africa as well as with the leading organizations in Africa – the African Union, ECOWAS, et cetera.
And I think what you’re hearing across the board – but I’ll speak just for the United States – is a strong condemnation of any effort to seize power by force and to dispute the – and disrupt the constitutional order. Whether this constitutes a coup technically or not, I can’t say. That’s for the lawyers to say. But what it clearly constitutes is an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the constitution.
So we are calling for the immediate release of President Bazoum. We’re calling for the immediate respect for the rule of law and for public safety. And we’re doing that in, I think, chorus with many others who have been – who have spoken out today as well, including the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.
We’re monitoring the situation very, very closely. We’re, as I said, in communication with governments throughout the region and beyond. Our own strong economic and security partnership with Niger depends on democratic governance and respect for the rule of law. In terms of our embassy, we, of course, have been in very close contact with our team there. They released a security alert advising U.S. citizens to limit any unnecessary movements, avoid the affected area until further notice as the situation evolves. And the embassy is doing what it always does in these situations, which is to conduct a full accountability of all of its official personnel and family members. And, of course, we’re messaging the American community. So we’re keeping a very close watch on this.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAHUTA: Abbie, thank you for the question. And with regards to the arrangements between China and the Solomon Islands, of course, we respect the sovereignty of Solomons to make their own decisions, but for New Zealand we also respect regional arrangements that have been long held and agreed to, like, for example, (inaudible) declaration. And what that means in a practical sense is that there is widespread agreement amongst Pacific states that when it comes to security issues that we will take a family first approach.
And so these arrangements that have been reached, we have raised our concerns because of the lack of openness and transparency around the full nature of these agreements, the potential impact for the region. Because we know our family first response is one that seeks to preserve regional security and regional sovereign interests. And anything that might impact on that should be made clear to other Pacific partners. And that’s why we’ll continue to push on the Solomon Islands PM Sogavare to make clear what the full extent of those arrangements are so that we can assess what it means for our region.
QUESTION: This is a question for Secretary Blinken. Jessica Mutch McKay from Television New Zealand. A two-part question, if I can.
First thing, on the issue of Ukraine, are you confident that – that the counteroffensive has begun and how hopeful are you on its success? And also, what would it take for the U.S. to rejoin the CPTPP?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much.
First, with regard to Ukraine – well, first, of course, the counteroffensive itself did begin many weeks ago. I think the question on the table now is whether the Ukrainians are deploying some of the units that they’ve held back and putting all of those into the counteroffensive. And I’d really refer you to our Defense Department and other experts on exactly what’s happening on the ground.
But what I can say is this: We believe that the tools, the equipment, the training, the advice that many of us have shared with the Ukrainians over many months puts them in a good position to be successful on the ground in recovering more of the territory that Russia has taken from Ukraine.
Keep in mind – and it’s important to step back for one minute – what Russia was trying to achieve in Ukraine has already failed. The objective that President Putin set in Ukraine was to erase it from the map, to eliminate its independence, to subsume it into Russia. That failed a long time ago. Now, of course, there’s an intense battle going on for the land that Russia had seized from Ukraine and that Ukraine is rightly trying to recover. Since the beginning of the Russian aggression in February, Ukraine’s taken back about half of what Russia seized in that aggression. But there’s an intense battle going on now, again, to recover more of that land.
We believe strongly, as so many countries around the world do, that Russia’s aggression cannot go forward with impunity. To allow that to happen would be not only to acquiesce to the aggression against Ukraine and its people, but to the aggression against the very principles at the heart of the United Nations Charter that are vital for peace and security around the world: territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence. That’s why so many countries have come together in such strong and sustained support for Ukraine as it goes forward.
At the end of the day, the strength, the resilience, the dedication of the Ukrainian people are really what’s going to make a difference. They’re fighting for their own country, for their own future, for their land, for their freedom; the Russians are not. And that’s fundamentally the difference-maker.
With regard to trade, we have, as I think you heard the foreign minister say, a vigorous and strong trade and investment relationship between our countries, and I think that’s only going to grow. Our focus right now is on building out the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. And I think that’s important in a number of ways, and we, by the way, deeply appreciate New Zealand’s very positive engagement and leadership on really fleshing that out. This is a new type of economic arrangement. It goes beyond, in many ways, traditional free trade arrangements both in the ambition of its commitments as well as the scope of the areas that it covers.
So for example, we are working together to actually address what will be – what already are – the critical pillars of 21st century economies: secure, resilient supply chains; digital transformation; clean energy development; and making sure that trade is actually facilitated and that it’s done in a fair and transparent manner. We’ve had great success already with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in building out the second pillar on supply chains, and we’re working closely together on that. By the end of the year, I suspect we will have finished developing the other pillars.
So that is our focus, and we’re gratified to have New Zealand’s partnership, as well as many other countries in advancing – not just advancing that vision, but turning it into a practical reality.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible), thank you. And finally, Michael.
QUESTION: Hi, Michael Birnbaum from The Washington Post. Thanks very much for taking our questions. Secretary Blinken, if I could ask a couple questions about Ukraine. The African leaders are meeting today with President Putin to talk about food issues among other topics. Could you tell us about what outreach you and the Biden administration have had in trying to get African leaders to push Putin on the grain deal and what your backup plan is if Russia does not move on that?
And I was wondering if I could ask you also about U.S. policy on sharing information about war crimes in Ukraine with the ICC. Has there been a shift on that? And I – you may have just told us to ask the Pentagon about the counteroffensive, but there are reports out there that the U.S. believes there’s been a shift to a main phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, so just wanted to —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.
QUESTION: — see if you have a position about that.
Then Madam Foreign Minister, I’m wondering from your perspective what parts of Pillar Two of AUKUS New Zealand might be interested in joining and taking part in. And also, of course, you mentioned Tonga. We have just come there – from there and was wondering – clearly, the United States and China are focused on sort of military and security aspects of relations in the Pacific right now. Are you concerned about the militarization of the Pacific? And would you like the United States to do anything differently in the Pacific right now? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAHUTA: Yeah, perhaps I’ll go first this time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Please.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAHUTA: Thank you for the question. And I’ve been quite clear in terms of New Zealand’s position on the AUKUS arrangements right from the beginning is that New Zealand is not prepared to compromise or change our nuclear framework position. That’s in the first instance. And it’s acknowledged and regarded by AUKUS members and they have certainly heard what we’ve said in relation to our concerns around compliance of those arrangements with the Treaty of Rarotonga, and it is a widely held view across the region.
When I consider the aspects of Pillar Two that was relayed to the Secretary and the officials (inaudible), we’re exploring what the full extent of Pillar Two opportunities could look like, and then once that’s well understood and articulated by officials and agreed to, that will come back to cabinet. So nothing’s been agreed to, and I want to be really clear about that.
What we need to bear in mind that with members of AUKUS and indeed those of our close partners, we’re all really agreeing on a number of fronts across a range of issues that suit our common interest, which both of us have already discussed, from the security and defense point of view, but also from the trade and economic point of view, increasing both our bilateral, regional, and multilateral opportunities to strengthen our international rules-based system.
In relation to the China-U.S. question that you pose with regards to the Pacific region, it would be fair to say that Pacific partners themselves have articulated that the greatest security threat in our region is climate change. And therefore they are welcome – they, like us, are welcoming a different conversation about how partners help to meet and rise to the challenge of climate impacts within the region and what that can do to build different types of opportunities to strengthen the resilience of the region, the security of the region, and the relationships that are committed to seeing this region be no worse off. And that’s going to be an important element as we seek to foster and grow the range of partnerships with the likes of the U.S., who are now creating new embassies across the region, have resumed the Peace Corps within the region, and also having a presence in relation to a significant economic component which is important to the Pacific, which is around multi-management of the tuna fisheries as well as a presence in Fiji with USAID.
So that all, I think, bodes well for an increased presence with great commitment but also hearing the aspirations of the Pacific and working in partnership with them. It’s something that New Zealand takes very seriously with our Pacific partners, and it does help our long-term vested interest in ensuring greater peace, prosperity, and stability for our region.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Michael, with regard to the grain initiative and Africa, first, to take a step back – and you’ve heard me say this before, but I think it’s always very important to put this in perspective. As we all know, that initiative never should have been necessary in the first place. The only reason there is a Black Sea Grain Initiative, or there was until Russia pulled the plug on it again, is because Russia invaded Ukraine, and then having invaded Ukraine, it blockaded its ports, preventing Ukraine from exporting its grain, its wheat, its wheat products to the world. And so many countries around the world depend on those products and also depend on those products being on the market so that prices are kept low.
So having said that, of course, the United Nations, Türkiye helped initiate the project to make sure that grain, wheat, other products were getting out. And during its pendency before Russia tore it up just a week or so ago, something like almost 35 million tons of food products has gotten out through that initiative to world markets. Half of those products or more were going to the developing world; two-thirds of the wheat going to the developing world. As a result, supplies were there, prices were kept lower. As I’ve mentioned before, it was the equivalent of exporting 18 billion loaves of bread through this one corridor that Russia has now shut down.
So that’s the context in which this is happening. From day one, going back to the initial Russian aggression, we’ve been in very close contact with partners throughout Africa, particularly on the question of food security. We had a special session when we were in the presidency of the Security Council a year ago in May in which we focused on food insecurity. That’s been the product of a confluence of things over the last few years, to include climate, to include COVID, and unfortunately to include conflict in the Russian aggression. All those things have come together to make food supplies more challenged and to increase prices.
So we know that particularly for countries in Africa this is an acute problem, and the United States going back a long time has been trying to lead the response to be part of the solution. Since the aggression against Ukraine by Russia, we’ve contributed an additional $14.5 billion to global food security – some of that for emergency assistance to help countries particularly in the developing world that were in need, some of it going to help their sustainable productive capacity.
On the margins of that UN meeting that I mentioned, I pulled together colleagues from about 10 African countries – again, this is a year ago May – to hear from them what they were looking for, what they needed, from all of us to address this challenge. And what I heard was not only the emergency assistance which is deeply appreciated but also investments in their long-term productive capacity. When we had the African Leaders Summit that President Biden convened and had African leaders together for three days in Washington, this was a big focus of our work and ongoing efforts.
Parenthetically, the United States contributes about half of the budget of the World Food Program. Russia contributes about .02 percent. So that gives you some idea of who’s the solution and who’s the problem.
In the immediate, yes, we’ve been in very close contact with countries throughout the developing world and notably countries in Africa. I think it’s very clear from the responses that we’ve already seen that they know exactly who’s to blame for this current situation, the current predicament, with Russia pulling out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. And it wasn’t – it wasn’t only pulling out. What have they done since they pulled out? They’ve repeatedly bombed the Port of Odesa. They’ve laid mines in the Black Sea. They’ve explicitly threatened shipping. I think that sends a very clear message, and I think it’s a message that is falling on very, very critical and concerned ears in Africa and throughout the developing world. My expectation would be that Russia will hear this clearly from our African partners when they meet.
With regard to the ICC, we’ve made clear that there needs to be accountability for those who have committed war crimes in Ukraine, and we’ve said that consistently from day one and we’ve also acted on that. We support the ICC’s investigation. We’ll be cooperating with that investigation. I’m not going to get into the details, the specifics of any cooperation because the court treats requests for cooperation confidentially, and we of course respect that. But the bottom line is we support accountability through a number of mechanisms, including the ICC.
And finally on the counteroffensive, I really don’t have anything to add to what I said before. Again, it’s been ongoing for some weeks, and the question, now I know that you’re asking, is: Is the main thrust now moving forward? And I’d really refer you to the Pentagon on that. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAHUTA: Well, Secretary Blinken, thank you very much for coming to visit New Zealand, being so generous with your time. You have a whole another visit after New Zealand to carry on with. We wish your team well and we hope that you enjoy the rest of your time here in Aotearoa New Zealand. On behalf of our prime minister and the Government of New Zealand, to you and your delegation, (speaking in Māori).
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Thank you.