What Britain's most significant foreign policy review since Cold War means for NZ

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© Video – The AM Show; Image – Getty. Watch: David Parker speaks in 2020 about needs to be done to a secure a free trade deal between NZ and the UK.

The United Kingdom intends to “invest deeply” in New Zealand and strengthen its cooperation with Five Eyes nations over the coming decade, according to a new review of Britain’s defence and foreign policy.

The British government released its ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’ on Wednesday morning, described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the most comprehensive review of the nation’s foreign policy settings since the Cold War.

Conducted over the last year, it lays out Johnson’s vision for how the United Kingdom will engage in international affairs into 2030, focusing on issues like trade, pandemic preparedness, aid spending and nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom’s intentions for its relationships with its global partners have also been outlined, including with New Zealand.

“The UK will continue to invest deeply in our partnerships with Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which are based on shared history, values and people-to-people connections, including as members of the Commonwealth,” the review says.

“We also work together, with the US, through our unique and highly valued Five Eyes partnership. We have increased our Five Eyes cooperation, including in response to the pandemic, and will seek to strengthen policy cooperation further on a range of issues. Under our independent trade policy, we will seek bespoke FTAs with each partner.”

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The review provides further detail about how the UK intends to approach the Five Eyes partnership over the coming decade. The intelligence-sharing alliance comprises the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

With Five Eyes partners, the UK wants to strengthen its cybersecurity capacity, improve aviation security, dismantle serious and organised crime, and “create a more diverse and competitive supply base for telecoms networks”. 

The UK last year announced telecom providers must stop installing Chinese Huawei equipment in the country’s 5G network from this September.

The document includes a specific section on the United Kingdom’s proposed “Indo-Pacific tilt”, a move to engage more in the region which spans across the Pacific, south-east Asia and India, and is home to at least 1.7 million British citizens. 

By 2030, the review suggests the world’s “geopolitical and economic centre of gravity” will have moved eastwards towards the Indo-Pacific and China will have a greater presence in the region.

As a result, the UK wants to strengthen its diplomatic and trading ties across nations in the area. 

That means concluding and implementing free trade agreements with the likes of New Zealand, of which the third round of negotiations ended in February. In January, it was reported in Britain that officials wanted to have the deal done by Easter, but our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade tempered those expectations.

As previously signalled, the UK also wants to join up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – of which New Zealand is a signatory – and become a “dialogue partner” to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Queen Elizabeth Carrier this year will also make its first operational deployment to the region. 

Britain’s Foreign Policy Group, a think tank based in London, said this “tilt” was interesting as it was being framed by increasing trade relations rather than within a security and defence context. 

“The Review makes clear that we will work alongside others, and within existing structures, to enhance the voice of the openness agenda. Significantly, it emphasises that our tilt must be seen as more than a faddish interest, committing us to a longer-term involvement in the region.”

Among other key takeaways from the integrated review is that the UK will increase its nuclear warhead stockpile, sees China as a “systemic competitor”, and intends to return its aid spending to pre-COVID levels “when the fiscal situation allows”. 

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