NEW Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters and his Australian counterpart Marise Payne have begun their six-monthly bilateral meeting, both stressing the importance of their work together in the Pacific.
They arrived at Cable Bay Vineyard, on Waiheke Island, accompanied by Chris Seed, the new head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), and Rebecca Kitteridge, the director of the NZ Security Intelligence Service.
The Australian team included Duncan Lewis, the Director-General of Security and head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Major General Paul Bruce Symon, the Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, and Ewen McDonald, Australia’s High Commissioner to Wellington.
In opening remarks, Peters said Australia was ‘our closest, nearest, sometimes dearest of partners’.
The meeting was expected to discuss trade tensions between China and United States, intelligence issues, and co-operation in the Pacific.
MFAT’s deputy secretary of the Pacific and development group, Jonathan Kings, attended the meeting, as did Heidi Bottle, the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior advisor for the Pacific.
Peters and Payne both stressed the importance of the Pacific.
“We are both doing considerable amounts [in the Pacific], both within our own right but also as partners, and that partnership is reinforced by these meetings,” Payne said.
Last year Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $2 billion (US$1.4 million) infrastructure fund for the Pacific to counter China influence.
Australia and the US have also announced plans to build a naval base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, which had previously been in discussion with China about the project.
Peters and Payne have met before, including at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, at the Melbourne Cup in November, and at APEC in Papua New Guinea, where tensions involving China were apparent.
Peters hosted Payne at his St Mary’s Bay home in Auckland for dinner. He extended the same hospitality to her predecessor, Julie Bishop, on her visit to Auckland last year.
In the past week Payne, the former Defence Minister, has visited Washington, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, where the Pacific Islands Forum will be held this year.
Bishop resigned as Foreign Minister in August after getting only 11 votes in a Liberal leadership contest, despite being the public’s preferred candidate. She recommended Payne get the Foreign Minister’s job.
Bishop has been in New Zealand on a private visit last week to address the National Party and caught up for lunch with former counterpart Murray McCully.
Ardern did not attend the dinner at Peters’ place. She did so last year but that was to establish relations with Bishop and she has already met Payne several times, including at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru and at the United Nations in September.