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Geoffrey Miller: Antony Blinken’s endgame for New Zealand, AUKUS and a visit down under

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The US Secretary of State’s visit to New Zealand and Australia this week comes as the two countries jointly host the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta has highlighted the potential for ‘good old-fashioned sports diplomacy’ – and the secretary is scheduled to attend the United States vs Netherlands match in Wellington on Thursday afternoon.

But the travel is more than just a chance to take in a game.

Antony Blinken’s visit just happens to coincide with a trip to Wellington by Anthony Albanese.

The Australian prime minister is coming for talks with his New Zealand counterpart, Chris Hipkins.

It seems inevitable that New Zealand’s potential role in the AUKUS defence pact will be up for discussion in closed-door meetings involving Albanese, Blinken, Hipkins and Mahuta.

The US Secretary of State will arrive in New Zealand after a stopover in Tonga to dedicate a new US embassy in Nuku’alofa.

The new US embassy in Tonga fulfils a pledge made by US Vice President Kamala Harris in a virtual address to the Pacific Islands Forum in July last year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Tonga’s Prime Minister Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi in Nuku'alofa on 26 July, 2023.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Tonga’s Prime Minister Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi in Nuku’alofa on 26 July. Photo: AFP/ Tupou Vaipulu

The swift opening of the new diplomatic mission – which commenced operations in May – is one way to show that Washington means business when it comes to the Pacific.

An in-person visit to Tonga – population 100,000 – by America’s top diplomat is another.

Further south, calls on New Zealand by top-ranking US officials have traditionally also been rare: the last visit by a US Secretary of State came when Rex Tillerson spent eight hours in Wellington in 2017.

But New Zealand has seen a parade of senior US officials arriving over the past year, including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy ShermanWhite House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink.

Soon after Campbell’s visit in March, New Zealand’s defence minister Andrew Little indicated New Zealand was willing to explore joining the ‘second pillar’ of AUKUS – comments that were later somewhat walked back by Hipkins.

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In recent years, New Zealand has already made remarkable foreign policy shifts – and it is worth remembering just how far Wellington has come.

After all, when Tillerson visited six years ago, New Zealand was still getting used to rebuilding ties with the United States, after the bilateral relationship had languished for several decades.

The US suspended its obligations to New Zealand under the ANZUS treaty in 1986, in response to the introduction of a nuclear-free policy by New Zealand’s Fourth Labour Government.

Normalisation began with the ‘Wellington Declaration’ – signed when Hillary Clinton visited New Zealand in 2010 – and the companion military-focused ‘Washington Declaration’ in 2012.

However, the US began allowing New Zealand into its military drills even later: New Zealand was invited to participate in the joint US-Australia ‘Talisman Sabre’ exercise for the first time in 2015.

New Zealand has been a consistent participant since then, including in the 2023 edition of Talisman Sabre that is currently underway in northern Australia.

This year’s version is the biggest yet, involving 13 countries and some 30,000 troops.

Countries involved for the first time include Germany and India (the latter as an observer), while militaries from all three of the smaller Pacific Island nations that have standing armies are also on board: Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

While all militaries need to train, this year’s Talisman Sabre is designed more than ever to project US-led unity and strength vis-à-vis China.

In this respect, New Zealand presents something of a dilemma.

Wellington’s foreign policy has undoubtedly become more hardline over the past year.

By and large, New Zealand has been listening and responding to its more hawkish Western partners.

Chris Hipkins’ Labour Government has signed up to new US-led groupings and joint statements, expanded New Zealand’s ties with NATO and committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars more on its military.

But as Hipkins’ recent trip to China showed, New Zealand is still China’s best friend in the West – and in substance and tone, the New Zealand prime minister is still striking a markedly softer tone than his more hawkish friends.

For the most part, Hipkins is content to describe Wellington’s relationship with Beijing as ‘complex’ and has largely settled on the relatively mild adjective of ‘assertive’ to describe China’s ambitions.

The ‘assertive’ descriptor popped up in Hipkins’ most-detailed foreign policy address to date, made to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs (NZIIA) shortly before the PM headed to Europe for the NATO summit in mid-July.

The PM then referred to ‘China’s increasing assertiveness’ in his speech in Vilnius – and he drew on ‘assertive’ once again when he spoke to the recent China Business Summit in Auckland.

The choice has not come out of thin air: the strongest words on Beijing in the recent Strategic Foreign Policy Assessment from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) are a reference to ‘the Chinese Government’s more assertive foreign policy’.

The MFAT blueprint also frequently deploys the ‘complex’ wording favoured by Hipkins.

This results in some rather tortured and deliberately oblique phrasings in reference to risks for New Zealand, such as ‘increasing regional complexities arising from engagement by development partners from outside the region’.

By contrast, the NATO leaders’ communique issued in Lithuania is crystal clear in its calling-out of Beijing: ‘The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values’.

To be fair, Antony Blinken himself has attempted to take a more constructive tone of late in a bid to build bridges with Beijing, following the recent visits by the Secretary of State and other top US officials to China.

But this should still be seen in context: while Blinken was conciliatory when he pledged in June to ‘manage’ US rivalry with China ‘so that the relationship does not veer into conflict’, he also recently delivered remarks in Indonesia that decried ‘the use of force, coercion, or aggression’ – talking points that were squarely aimed at Beijing.

Back in Wellington, New Zealand may now be reading the same book as its Western partners, but it is not yet quite on the same page.

But there is still time for the US to influence the trajectory of New Zealand foreign policy.

The most significant components of New Zealand’s foreign policy realignment are yet to come.

Hipkins recently [National Security Strategy signalled the release] of a new National Security Strategy, while the results from an expedited ‘Defence Policy Review’ process are expected soon.

But with New Zealand’s election taking place on 14 October, the reports – and Blinken’s visit – are likely to inform decisions that will be taken by the country’s next government.

Antony Blinken is entering New Zealand’s field of play.

The geopolitical stakes are high.

And the game is not over yet.

* Geoffrey Miller is the Democracy Project’s geopolitical analyst and writes on current New Zealand foreign policy and related geopolitical issues. He has lived in Germany and the Middle East and is a learner of Arabic and Russian. He is currently working on a PhD on New Zealand’s relations with the Gulf states.

SOURCE RNZ

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Woman charged with murder after man found dead in Hamilton

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A 45-year-old woman has been charged with murder after a man died at a house in Hamilton early on Wednesday morning.

Police were called to an address on Cranmer Close, Rototuna at 2am, Detective Senior Sergeant Scott Neilson said.

There they found the man in a critical condition. Attempts by police and ambulance staff to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Police earlier said they would have a “significant” presence in the area while inquiries were made.

Neilson said the man and woman knew each other.

“Police are speaking with those involved and are offering support to the victim’s family.”

VIA RNZ

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Malaysia’s 6th humanitarian aid to Palestine to depart Cairo tomorrow

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Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the shipment will consist of 1,358 tonnes of essential aid, including medical supplies, hygiene kits, food provisions and essential items for infants.

“This special mission involves the delivery of 100 containers from Malaysia to Gaza, coordinated through the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim) warehouse in Cairo, Egypt.

“I urge Malaysians to continue their unwavering support for the Palestinians, especially in light of the ongoing developments in Gaza. Our commitment to this cause should be steadfast, driven by principles rather than solely religious affiliations,” he told reporters at a press conference today.

This mission will include 20 delegation members who will spend 10 days in Cairo, making preparations and overseeing the delivery process to the Rafah border. The delegation was expected to return three days before Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Zahid, who is the patron of this mission, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will engage with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to facilitate the delegation’s passage through the Sinai Peninsula and the Rafah border.

Anwar, who was expected to attend an event in Pahang today, made an unexpected appearance at the flag-off event to demonstrate his solidarity with the mission.

Present were Mara chairman Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, National Disaster Management Agency director-general Datuk Khairul Shahril Idrus and the mission’s chief commissioner Sany Araby Datuk Abdul Alim Araby.

Zahid also announced that Umno will donate RM1 million to the mission.

This humanitarian aid was made possible through collaborative funding from six non-governmental organisations, spearheaded by the Mapim, alongside Cinta Gaza Malaysia, Iman Care Malaysia and Pertubuhan Glokal Ihsan Malaysia, as well as international organisations Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand and the Al-Khair Foundation from the United Kingdom.

VIA NST

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Chocolate prices expected to rise

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By Maytaal Angel and Maxwell Akalaare Adombila, Reuters

Major African cocoa plants in Ivory Coast and Ghana have stopped or cut processing because they cannot afford to buy beans, four trading sources said, meaning chocolate prices around the world are likely to soar.

Chocolate-makers have already increased prices to consumers, after three years of poor cocoa harvests, with a fourth expected, in the two countries that produce nearly 60 percent of the world’s cocoa.

Cocoa prices have more than doubled over the last year, scaling numerous all-time highs.

“We need massive demand destruction to catch up with the supply destruction,” Tropical Research Services’ Steve Wateridge, a world expert on cocoa, said.

Chocolate-makers cannot produce chocolate using raw cocoa and rely on processors to turn beans into butter and liquor that can be made into chocolate.

But the processors say they cannot afford to buy the beans.

A cacao is harvested for the beans inside which are fermented to make chocolate.

Photo: RNZ/Supplied

State-controlled Ivorian bean processor Transcao, one of the country’s nine major plants, said it had stopped buying beans because of their price.

It said it was still processing from stock, but did not say what capacity it was running at. Two industry sources said the plant was almost idle.

They asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak publicly on the issue.

One of the two sources said more major state run plants could shut soon in top grower Ivory Coast, which produces nearly half the world’s cocoa.

The same two sources said even global trader Cargill struggled to source beans for its major processing plant in Ivory Coast, halting operations for about a week last month. Cargill did not respond to a request for comment.

In No. 2 cocoa grower Ghana, most of its eight plants, including state-owned Cocoa Processing Company (CPC), have repeatedly suspended work for weeks since the season started in October, two separate industry sources said.

CPC said it is operating at about 20 percent of capacity because of the shortage of beans.

Disruption at the farm gate

The price rally has derailed a long-established mechanism for global cocoa trade, through which farmers sell beans to local dealers who sell them on to processing plants or global traders.

Those traders then sell beans or cocoa products – butter, powder and cocoa liquor – to global chocolate giants such as Nestle, Hershey, and Mondelez.

In normal times, the market is heavily regulated – traders and processors purchase beans from local dealers up to a year in advance at pre-agreed prices. Local regulators then set lower farmgate prices that farmers can charge for beans.

However, in times of shortage like this year, the system breaks down – local dealers often pay farmers a premium to the farmgate price to secure beans.

The dealers then sell the beans on the spot market at higher prices instead of delivering them at pre-agreed prices.

As global traders rush to purchase those beans at any price to meet their obligations with the chocolate firms, local processors are often left short of beans.

Ivorian and Ghanian authorities normally try to protect local plants by issuing them with cheap loans or by limiting volumes of beans that global traders can purchase.

This year, however, plants are not getting the cocoa they pre-ordered and cannot afford to buy at higher spot prices.

Already, chocolate-makers have raised prices. US retail stores charged 11.6 percent more for chocolate products last year compared with 2022, data from market research firm Circana shows.

The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) expects global cocoa production will fall by 10.9percent to 4.45 million metric tons this season.

Grindings – a measure of demand – will fall by 4.8 percent to 4.78 million as processors struggle to buy beans, and supply less butter at a higher price to chocolate-makers, which in turn raise prices.

The supply-demand mismatch will leave the market with a deficit of 374,000 tons this season, up from 74,000 tons last season, according to the ICCO.

This means processors and chocolate firms will have to draw on cocoa stocks to fully cover their needs. The ICCO expects global cocoa stocks to fall to their lowest in 45 years by the season end.

Wateridge of Tropical Research said the cocoa market could post another deficit next season based on the severity of bean disease in West Africa.

The market has not seen four successive years of deficit since the late 1960s, ICCO data shows.

– This story was first published by Reuters
VIA RNZ

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