New Zealand needs to keep developing its Asia-Pacific relationships in order to enhance trade and improve national, regional and global security according to Waikato University masters student Simon Gray.
Mr Gray is researching Islamic militant-terrorism in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for his degree and believes New Zealand shouldn’t be complacent about this type of security threat. “Globalisation has dramatically increased the risk of terrorism to all nations. I think for our own national security we need to continue our efforts in strengthening our economic and political partnerships in the region and ultimately build a more effective counter-terrorism network throughout the wider Asia-Pacific.”
Mr Gray says China in particular is an important strategic ally, among other nations in the region. “Its political and economic power base continues to grow particularly within the Asia-Pacific, influencing China’s decision to make New Zealand the first OECD nation in the world to seal a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the emerging global economic power. This will directly benefit the economy as well as New Zealand’s long-term political and security interests in the region, and further secures New Zealand’s place in Asia,” says Gray.
He thinks China sees New Zealand as a good strategic investment. “It is fundamental to China’s self-interests that it projects itself to the Western world and Asian nations as developing a peaceful and engaging foreign policy and New Zealand is a stepping-stone to achieve this.” China is predicted to become New Zealand’s largest trading partner within a decade.
In 2009, Mr Gray was an observer and member of the largest Track II International Relations delegation sent from New Zealand to China and Japan which was led by the Asia-New Zealand Foundation. Mr Gray represented the Asia-NZ Young Leaders Network.
“My feeling is that trade and political relationships come first and security comes as a consequence of those. However, I think the short-to-mid term geo-political stability of the Asia-Pacific will ultimately depend on a number of strategic bilateral and trilateral regional security blocs, while building towards a long-term multilateral, economic, political and security, integrated Asia-Pacific community.”
He says education and cultural understanding are vital for the successful development of any relationship, and having high-level Track II dialogues allow for different country representatives and institutions to discuss important bilateral, trilateral and multilateral international relations issues within an informal diplomatic capacity, which goes a long way in increasing understandings between nations.
While he was in China Mr Gray visited the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies for a two-day session entitled East Asia and the South Pacific in Regional Cooperation. “The main focus of discussions centred on China’s emerging and growing role in the Asia-Pacific. Most delegates saw this as positive, but there was a lot of discussion about China’s rise and how best to achieve peaceful integration within the region.”
Mr Gray will complete his masters thesis in November, and is seeking a career in international diplomacy, security intelligence or a security/defence analyst. “That’s the plan. I think international relations and security are interesting and challenging topics in an environment that’s always changing and throwing-up new incidents and issues to consider, analyse and deal with.”