Dr Tadashi Iwami
The former All Blacks’ superstar, Richie McCaw, is back in Japan after three years. Despite quite sticky weather in Tokyo, he seems to be enjoying his time there, as far as his Facebook photo is concerned. For New Zealand, Japan is not like its neighbour, Australia. There is an over 9,000km gap in distance, and it takes about 12 hours from Auckland to Tokyo. Yet, Mr McCaw and other more New Zealanders have visited Japan. In fact, prior to COVID19, the number of visitors from New Zealand nearly doubled from 49,400 in 2015 to 94,100 in 2019. In turn, about 100,000 Japanese people visited New Zealand. Per population, Kiwis love to visit Japan way more than Japanese do. Both countries are distant when it comes to geography, but they are close in many ways.
The bond that New Zealand and Japan have built is showing its strength in recent years. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern chose to visit Japan as one of the first ‘must-go’ destinations. After making a quick visit to Singapore, Ardern landed Tokyo and met her counterpart, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on 21 April 2022. Kishida was not new to New Zealand; he had come to New Zealand as a foreign minister in 2013 during the National government.
Also, this year is the 70-year anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relationship between New Zealand and Japan. Looking back, their relationship has dramatically changed over time, from the brutal enemy in Malaya, the Solomon Islands and many more in the Pacific, being prisoners of wars in Featherston, A-class war criminals judged by Sir Erima Northcroft in the Tokyo Tribunal, the newly independent sovereign state in 1952, a major economic counterpart, to a key partner ‘in advancing and protecting peace and security in the Indo-Pacific’ region. Ardern’s visit to Tokyo in April 2022 was symbolic in that the bond between New Zealand and Japan cannot be cut off by the global pandemic of COVID19.
Today, New Zealand and Japan are working together to substantively address issues that are affecting the wider Indo-Pacific region including Pacific Island countries and beyond. Their common concerns include Russian aggression against Ukraine and its humanitarian crises, the rise of Chinese influence in the South Pacific exemplified by the China-Solomon Islands security deal, and the most serious challenge to the countries in the South Pacific, climate change.
While they are aware of the limitations in political, legal and resource terms, New Zealand and Japan are tightening their security bond for those concerns. Both countries will be signing an information sharing agreement in the near future. They are also keen on holding their first bilateral military exercise for enhancing maritime security. To enhance their defence diplomacy, both governments send their defence attaché personnel to own embassies. Their first Foreign and Defence Ministers’ (2+2) Meeting is expected to be held soon. In the context of the South Pacific region, Japan held the first Japan Pacific Islands Defence Dialogue (JPIDD) in September 2021 and New Zealand participated in it. The same month, New Zealand welcomed Japan as an observer at the South Pacific Defence Minister’s Meeting.
Economically, New Zealand and Japan are taking a shared leadership in regional and international fora such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP11), and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECEP). The US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) is another free trade forum where both nations could enhance their bond.
In the Joint Statement that Ardern and Kishida released in April 2022, both also agreed to use the Japan-led Pacific Islands Leaders’ Meeting (PALM) as another important forum for issues in the South Pacific region, such as climate change. For them, climate change is an “existential threat” to many partners in the PALM. Thus, “both leaders renewed their determination to contribute to the peace and stability of the region in cooperation with Pacific and other partners, based on shared values and in support of Pacific priorities.”
The indigenous cultural revitalisation is something Japan can learn a lot from Aotearoa.
As regional and international environments change, there is no doubt that New Zealand and Japan need to evolve their relationships, just like any other relationships we have with our partners, whānau and friends. However, there is also no doubt that their relationship also goes forward, not backwards, and even much closer than what we see today in the long term. Just like Mr McCaw, we can strengthen our bond by visiting each other more often and experiencing what they offer here and there in the post-COVID19 era.
About the author: Dr Tadashi Iwami (PhD in International Relations, University of Otago) is a lecturer of International Relations at Hokkaido University. Dr Iwami's expertise is on international relations, security issues, foreign policy, and Japan in the Indo-Pacific region. His recent publications appear in the Pacific Review, Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, and East Asia: An International Quarterly.
The views expressed in these blogs are not those of the NZASIA Executive and reflect the personal views of the blog authors.