New Zealand, the United States, and the Indo-Pacific

Walter Douglas
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Heritage Hotel
Auckland, New Zealand
March 26, 2018

As prepared

Good afternoon. I am delighted to be with you here for the first conference we have organized with strategic thinkers from the U.S. and New Zealand to look at the U.S.-New Zealand relationship. I would like to congratulate CSIS and Victoria University who have organized this event. While this morning we examined the U.S.-New Zealand bilateral relationship, I see today as another excellent opportunity to look at our two countries and how they interact with the larger region as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

I should also note that I first came to New Zealand as a backpacker in 1979. It is wonderful to be back in Aotearoa (A -OH-TEE-OH-ROW-AH) to enjoy Kiwi hospitality in this beautiful city.

As you know, the Trump Administration is particularly focused on the Indo-Pacific. We believe that this region, which includes New Zealand and the vast swath of the Western and South Pacific, will be the most consequential part of the globe this century. This was underscored by the President’s 13-day visit to Asia in November during which he outlined our priorities in his numerous meeting and most pointedly in his speeches in Seoul and Da Nang.

Our vision for the Indo-Pacific is a region where sovereign and independent nations and diverse cultures can all prosper side-by-side, and thrive in freedom and in peace. When you look at President Trump’s reference to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” keep the focus on free and open. Our vision is for every nation – big and small – to have a rules-based order that allows all to interact as sovereign and equal nations. I know that upholding values and a rules-based order is something Prime Minister Ardern has stressed recently in as a basis for New Zealand’s foreign policy priorities. It does not surprise me that the U.S. and New Zealand continue to be in such alignment.

But let’s start with history. The United States has a lot of it out here. The Empress of China became the first American ship to sail from the newly independent United States to China, opening our trade and transporting the first official representative of the American government to Canton, setting sail on President George Washington’s Birthday in 1784. And in 1792 President Washington nominated Benjamin Joy of Newbury Port as the first U.S. Consul to Calcutta, India. From there, our presence only increased until we became a Pacific nation. We have never left, and have no intention of ever doing so.

Around this time American whaling ships started visiting New Zealand and by 1838 half the whaling vessels visiting New Zealand were from America. Mark Twain visited in 1896. The Great White Fleet in 1908. And 100,000 US troops were stationed here in World War II. From ANZUS to the Wellington and Washington Declarations, the U.S. has demonstrated its commitment to the region as well.

At the end of 2017, the Administration released its National Security Strategy, the success of which will depend in great measure on close coordination with our friends and allies. While the specifics are still evolving, it will surely focus on strengthening our alliances, deepening economic and security relationships in the region, and forming networks of partnerships that promote a free, open, and rules-based framework for the region. In fact, the Strategy specifically mentions strengthening cooperation with New Zealand as critical to our success. We will continue to strengthen regional institutions, including ASEAN and APEC, as centerpieces of our engagement.

The Indo-Pacific – which runs from India’s west coast to the American West Coast – is home to more than 3 billion people; thriving and dynamic markets; five U.S. treaty allies, an exceptionally close partner in New Zealand, and a lot of other friends. The region is the focal point of the world’s energy and trade routes and is a leader in global progress, exchanges, and innovation.

The region is significant for many other reasons: it has the world’s largest democracy, India, and the largest Muslim-majority country in Indonesia, also a democracy. Five of our top ten trading partners are in the region: China, Japan, ROK, India, and Taiwan. Our trade here with New Zealand is very healthy, balanced, and growing.

When you look at the compelling facts of the region, and the U.S. status as a long-time Pacific Power, it is clearly in our national interest to work with allies, partners, and regional institutions to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains a place of peace, stability and growing prosperity. With 10 of the 20 most powerful militaries in the world in the Indo-Pacific, it cannot become a region of disorder and conflict.

There is one path forward. It is by bolstering partnerships throughout the region. We saw two good examples during the President’s participation in the APEC leaders meeting in Vietnam and the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit in November. On the margins of the East Asia Summit, senior officials from the United States, Japan, Australia, and India met together as a group for the first time in nearly a decade to discuss closer diplomatic coordination on the key issues of the day in the Indo-Pacific.

The Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Consultations on the Indo-Pacific, a significant grouping of four major democracies, examined ways to achieve shared goals and address common challenges, including the need to promote and uphold the rules-based order and strengthen cooperation to curtail the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. I should underscore that these principles are not exclusive to members of any one group; they are open to all states in the region.

We’re in New Zealand, so let’s talk specifically about where this important partnership fits in. Within the broad contours of these continuing efforts, we see the U.S.-New Zealand relationship as key to a successful Indo-Pacific strategy. We share a similar vision for the region. Our relationship reflects this every day, through our diplomatic outreach, our trade and investment, and our strategic cooperation. We both champion the benefit of values such as human rights, the rule of law, and free markets. We share a respect for sovereignty; free, fair and reciprocal trade; and the rules-based international order.

One thing I want to stress is that our Indo-Pacific policy is one of inclusion. It does not require our partners to make choices.

I want to say this in the context of U.S.-China relations. Our strategy also hopes to develop and advance areas for cooperation with China. That does not mean we will stop openly addressing our differences and resolutely defending U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners.

Regardless of China, the U.S. would be pursuing a free and open strategy. We have been doing it for 70 years in the region. Now we have put a name to it. We have a competitive relationship with China, but it doesn’t mean conflict or containment and does not preclude cooperation. Competition reveals merit.

It does mean that the U.S. will not shrink from responding to China’s challenges to the rules-based order and any bullying of neighboring countries.

We will continue to push China to respect international law and rules-based norms in its approach on territorial disputes, behavior in cyberspace, standards on infrastructure projects, and approach to fundamental freedoms and human rights. To this end, we have streamlined our bilateral dialogues with China to ensure they are results-oriented and productive.

In light of all this, why has our focus broadened to encompass the whole “Indo-Pacific” region?

The last decades of the 20th century saw the incredible economic rise of the countries of East Asia. The region benefitted from a prolonged period of peace and stability, with the U.S., Australia, and our allies and partners all playing a central role to maintain that stability and foster that progress.

In the new century, we face new challenges in maintaining the stability of this open, rules-based system, including the rise of China as a strategic competitor. But we also find new opportunities, especially the emergence of India as global power and partner. The United States’ relationship with India is witnessing increasing security, economic, education and personal ties between the United States and India. For example, there are over three million American citizens who trace their families back to India. At the same time, there is growing interest in both South Asia and East Asia for greater cooperation, and the restoration of historical connections between the states around the Indian Ocean and those of the Pacific.

We should embrace these changes, and ensure that we are applying everything we learned from the rise of the countries of the Asia-Pacific to the broader region. We should use every tool at our disposal to foster continued prosperity, peace, and security throughout the Indo-Pacific region as new economic, cultural and security relationships are forged. And that means a more formal recognition of the connection between the two regions.

I will now turn it over to Andrew who will lead the discussion and look forward to your comments and questions.