Jacinda Ardern urges to end the ‘black-and-white’ view of global conflict

Jacinda Ardern urges to end the ‘black-and-white’ view of global conflict

New Zealand PM says Russia’s war in Ukraine is morally bankrupt but should not be seen as a conflict of democracy versus autocracy

The world is “bloody messy,” but we must move away from polarisation and black-and-white approaches to conflict, Jacinda Ardern said in a broad speech that addressed the Ukraine conflict and rising tensions with China.

The New Zealand prime minister decried Russia’s “morally bankrupt” war in Ukraine in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney, but also argued against hardening alliances, saying that the war should not be presented as a conflict of “democracy v autocracy” or seen as an inevitable direction for other tensions between competing nations.

“In taking every possible action to respond to Russia’s aggression and to hold it to account, we must remember that fundamentally this is Russia’s war,” she said.

“And while there are those who have shown over and direct support … who must also see consequences for their role, let us not otherwise characterize this as a war of the West vs Russia. Or democracy v autocracy. It is not.

“Nor should we naturally assume it is a demonstration of the inevitable trajectory in other areas of the geostrategic contest.”

While Ardern cited Belarus as an example of a country that had expressed support for Russia, her remarks also referred to China’s failure to condemn Russian aggression, and the prime minister devoted much of her speech to the question of China’s role in the Indo-Pacific, arguing against hardening alliances and instead calling for dialogue and cooperation.

“In the wake of the tensions we see rising, including in our Indo-Pacific region, diplomacy must become the strongest tool and de-escalation the loudest call. That won’t succeed, however, if those parties we endeavor to seek to engage with are increasingly isolated and the region we inhabit becomes increasingly divided and polarised,” Ardern said.

Over the last year, New Zealand has been pressed to clarify its stance on China’s increasingly aggressive presence in the Pacific, particularly after Beijing signed a secret bilateral security pact with the Solomon Islands and sought a regional agreement with other Pacific nations.

New Zealand has made some gradual shifts toward its more hardline Western partners, such as joining the US-led Blue Pacific pact and participating in UK military exercises in the South China Sea. However, New Zealand, which is heavily reliant on China for trade, is still attempting to tread a middle path, with Ardern stating that the country would seek to cooperate with Beijing on shared interests while emphasizing Pacific nations’ freedom in choosing partners and allies.

“Even as China becomes more assertive in the pursuit of its interests, there are still shared interests in which we can and should seek to cooperate,” she said.

“The honest reality is that the world is bloody messy. And yet, amongst all the complexity, we still often see issues portrayed in a black and white way,” she said. “We must not allow the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy to become an inevitable outcome for our region.”

She also urged countries not to become overly focused on military security and overlook the considerable risk that climate change and economic insecurity pose to the Pacific.

“While we all have a concern – and rightly so – about any moves towards the militarisation of our region, that must surely be matched by concern for those who experienced the violence of climate change,” she said.

“What happens in the Indo-Pacific Region impacts our entire neighborhood. It follows that we must strengthen the resilience of the Indo-Pacific through relationships, and importantly, economic architecture.”

As she charted New Zealand’s approach to trying to pursue “independent foreign policy” as a small player in an intensely pressured environment, Ardern re-articulated the country’s commitment to multilateral institutions – but also reflected on their recent failures.

There was “no better example of that than the failure of the UN to appropriately respond to the war in Ukraine because of the position taken by Russia in the security council”, she said, describing it as “a morally bankrupt position on their part, in the wake of a morally bankrupt and illegal war”.

Ardern is in Australia at the end of a trip to Europe, where she spoke at the Nato summit, finalized a free trade agreement with the EU, and met with leaders including Boris Johnson. In Australia, she will hold additional talks with her counterpart Anthony Albanese, which are expected to include discussions about China, the Pacific’s response to climate change, trade relations, and the rights of New Zealand citizens living in Australia.

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