New Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta is promising to promote an indigenous perspective in global affairs amid the tumult of a new US presidential administration and tension in New Zealand’s relationship with China.
In her first interview with Q+A in her capacity as Foreign Minister, Mahuta said she will “bring a different perspective to the role of foreign affairs”, including “values and principles that are driven from our Pacific, Polynesian heritage” and “connections to the northern hemisphere through colonisation and the Western institutions that we have, like an open democracy, the way in which we engage with the world”.
“I think I can bring a broader perspective to the role that we have as a small country in the Pacific to ensure peace, stability, prosperity and inclusive economic growth and taking on board an indigenous perspective,” she said.
Mahuta would not be drawn on any differences in her approach to the role, however, adding that she did not wish to compare herself to “any former foreign affairs minister, except to say that as a woman, as an indigenous woman, I will bring a different perspective, inevitably”.
The new Foreign Affairs Minister recently signed a joint statement with the Five Eyes partners critical of China - New Zealand’s largest trading partner - over its actions in Hong Kong amid what Mahuta called a “respectful” and “maturing” relationship with the country.
“A maturing relationship means that on those issues, where our values and the things that we believe in are not being practiced in ways that we can be comfortable with, our independent foreign policy allows us to speak out on those issues,” she said.
She added that New Zealand’s position on Hong Kong has not changed due to a change in Foreign Affairs Minister.
“It’s been the culmination of voicing our concerns about what’s happening in Hong Kong, though 'one country, two systems' approach that enables a level of autonomy - freedom of speech, freedom of the press - and a level of local decision-making - and that seems to be overshadowed at the moment.”
The special administrative region was handed over from Britain to China in 1997 under a one country, two systems approach.
Mahuta said she has yet to speak to her Chinese counterpart, but it's hoped they will be able to address the two countries' relationship sometime this year.
Meanwhile, Mahuta addressed a beaming face emoji she posted to Twitter as US TV networks projected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next US President-elect and Vice President-elect.
“I have to say that at the time, I was trying to make sure that that emoji was not connected to any other formal statement that I wrote,” she said.
“What followed that statement was my formal statement, which was recognising President-elect Biden, as well as Vice President[-elect] Kamala Harris and the outcome of the presidential election.”
She added, however, that New Zealand’s interests “with the United States can be maintained irrespective of who the administration was”.
Mahuta fired back against potential criticism emerging from the tweet, saying that people should not “read too much into emojis when they’re debating foreign policy - let’s be really clear".
“It’s the statements that matter and if people read into emojis, our country’s foreign policy - that’s just ridiculous.”