During his visit last month to Queenstown Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confronted Prime Minister Bill English over New Zealand’s Security Council vote to support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue and to oppose the building of new settlements on the West Bank.
“He mentioned it when he was here,” English said when asked if Turnbull had discussed it with him.
“All I would say is that we understand the impact (of the vote) particularly on our relationship with Israel and we want a positive relationship with them, so we will work to maintain that.”
But English will not withdraw from the vote as the United States is doing over its abstention.
“The positon is a long-standing position for New Zealand but also for most countries.”
He said that though Cabinet had not been able to discuss the specific decision to sponsor the resolution because of the unexpected way that Egypt had pulled out from doing that at the last minute, Cabinet had been regularly briefed on New Zealand’s stand on Israel while it was a member of the Security Council.
It’s not the first time Australia and New Zealand have been on different sides of votes at the UN about Israel.
Australia has long supported the hard-line pro-Israel position of the United States whereas New Zealand has generally voted with the majority of European countries with a more measured and balanced approach to the issue.
The split was clearly evident in November 2012 when New Zealand voted with a majority to accord the Palestinian state observer status while Australia abstained.
But for the new Prime Minister the discussion has been a brutal introduction into the realities of New Zealand’s complex international relationships.
The most challenging of these has been the election of President Trump and a recognition in Wellington that he has the potential to threaten the stability of the East Asian region.
“The issue of Chinese and American influence (in the region) and our relationship with them has been a critical issue for New Zealand for 20 years.
“But are optimistic that the Chinese want to participate in a rules-driven system and that the US will ultimately want to maintain its influence and so keep it in balance.”
But is he worried about Trump?
“The only thing that worries me there is the impact on New Zealand if some of the trade policies are actually put in place.
“We’ve yet to see them put in place but if they go down the line they are on they could have an impact on us.
“We are adapting to that already by making sure that we have a portfolio of trade opportunities out in front of us and also we look at more depth to the trade arrangements we have already have.
“Partly that is about responding to what happens if the US gets more protectionist.”
This new post-TPP multi-pronged trade policy is becoming more visible.
This week Foreign Minister Murray McCully will be in the Middle East; Trade Minister Todd McClay is on his way to Brussels and London and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has just returned from Iran.
That Australia is now complaining shows how far New Zealand has come in the 30 years since the breakdown of the alliance with the US and that it is now really stretching its legs with an independent foreign policy.
That foreign policy and the multi lateral trade policy fit nicely together.