Australia will this year send officials to New Zealand to brief the Government on AUKUS pillar two developments.
The announcement followed the trans-Tasman bilateral talks in Melbourne between New Zealand’s Defence Minister Judith Collins, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong and Australia Defence and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.
Peters said: “Pillar two [of Aukus] is the examination we’re going to look at going forward.”
“It is quite important when we’re looking at pillar two to work out quite what can we add but also where that fits in and I think that it would be very helpful for the right people to come from Australia,” Collins said.
The security pact agreement, between the UK, US and Australia centres on nuclear-powered submarines.
New Zealand has had a nuclear-free policy since the 1980s. However, a part of the agreement, known as tier two, focused on advanced technology like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
While Collins said New Zealand still needed to work out what it could add to the agreement, space technology was one area it could contribute.
“We have quite an active space industry and also technology sector which is involved with providing assistance to quite a few countries in terms of their defence areas but also in terms of telecommunications and other areas,” she said.
In a joint statement, the ministers acknowledged the meetings were taking place against a backdrop of “the most challenging strategic environment in decades”.
Peters said Thursday’s meetings, which also included discussions about the Middle East and Ukraine, were about “strengthening ties with Australia, New Zealand’s closest ally”.
“The meetings are an important opportunity to discuss our shared commitment to our alliance and identify avenues through which to deepen our cooperation,” he stated.
Wong also echoed the significance of the talks and highlighted the need for collaborative efforts.
“This partnership is even more important now, particularly because of what is happening in our region,” she said.
“We often speak about the challenging strategic circumstances we face… the fact that the region and the world are being reshaped, and we see this partnership as a central part of how we will respond to that reshaping.”
Why AUKUS could be problematic for New Zealand
Experts warned New Zealand joining the AUKUS security pact was problematic for three main reasons.
The first concerned China. The security pact largely centres on protecting the Pacific and Indo-Pacific region from the big powers. Ultimately, many experts say it is to also stop China from creeping in.
Moreover, international relations expert Robert Patman warned the optics of joining the deal could impact New Zealand’s relationship.
“China makes a big distinction between New Zealand and Australia. It sees Australia as essentially in lock step with US,” he said.
“Being part of AUKUS might erode the perception that we’re a country that’s based on principle and values.”
Patman said what was most concerning is the potential consequences, like the sanctioning by China Australia has received because of their relationship with the pact.
“There is a perception and at least China would take this view that if we joined AUKUS, then they would see that as an erosion of what New Zealand claims is an independent foreign policy.”
The second thing concerning experts is what the Pacific might think about New Zealand’s involvement.
Patman said it was no secret Pacific leaders had criticised Australia’s involvement with AUKUS and that is something that could translate to New Zealand.
Specifically, there would also be a concern from leaders about New Zealand getting involved in a nuclear-powered security pact, regardless of the tier.
Lastly, experts said there was a sense that AUKUS might potentially not be under the lead of President Biden, but rather Donald Trump, which could put New Zealand in an uncomfortable position.
The ministers said their meeting in Melbourne marked a significant step in trans-Tasman relations, as both countries were seeking to align foreign and defence policies amid a backdrop of global challenges.