Foreign Affairs minister Winston Peters will meet with some of the most powerful foreign ministers in Japan this week. Claire Trevett is covering the G20 summit in Nagoya, and spoke to Peters and Japan officials and experts about what is expected.


Soon after becoming Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters put his own twist on the role by hosting some international counterparts for dinners in his private home.

The first to dine at his St Mary's Bay home in Auckland was former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop in early 2018. Others followed.

Among those he hosted was Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who took a special detour from another trip recently to stop by and see Peters.

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Aso was also Foreign Minister when Peters last held the job from 2005.

The two men reportedly get on well, and share an enjoyment of the taste of whisky. Aso returned the hospitality recently on Peters' trip to Japan.

This weekend, the St Mary's Bay diplomacy will pay off because Peters was invited as one of a small handful of ministers from non-G20 countries to sit in on the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Japan.

The invite to the G20 will give him a few days' respite from his domestic troubles around the questions swirling around his party's donations, as well as meetings with the most powerful foreign ministers in the world.

NZ First Leader Winston Peters remains steadfast in his defence, telling media at Parliament any notion of wrongdoing by NZ First was "fake news". Video / Jason Walls

It is the first time New Zealand has been invited to the G20 foreign ministers' meeting, but the meeting in Nagoya this weekend is not the first time New Zealand has been invited to a G20 meeting.

The most recent was when Australia hosted it in 2014 and former PM John Key went.

But it is unusual that only the Foreign Minister was invited this time - New Zealand is the only one of the nine "invited" countries that was not also invited to the full leaders' summit in Osaka in June.

Although New Zealand was not invited to that summit, it was very much a topic of it. That meeting took place soon after the Christchurch mosque attacks.

The G20 leaders had issued a statement on the use of the internet for violent extremism and Peters may well speak to that if asked now the Christchurch Call is underway.

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The invite was extended last October, when Peters visited Japan and Tarō Kōno was Japan's foreign minister.

Kōno was replaced in the role by Toshimitsu Motegi in September this year.

"We have worked really hard to establish a special relationship with the Japanese, with people like Taro Aso, [former Foreign Minister] Tarō Kōno and an array of others including special advisers to Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe," Peters said.

"I think our relationship is at a level way above what we've ever had and this is evidence of it."

"We did promise when we took this job to heighten our engagement with the world and our relevance, and we have. This is evidence of it."

TRADE TALK:

But the dinners are not the only reason New Zealand is at the summit.

The first topic on the agenda set by Japan is trade. New Zealand is a signatory to the CPTPP, as is Japan and several other G20 nations.

Two are not: China and the US.

What is of use to Japan is New Zealand's voice, and long and sometimes bitter experience in negotiating free trade agreements.

Strength in numbers is also important when it comes to pushing against protectionism and for reforms at the World Trade Organisation, which Japan is pushing for.

Peters said that would be the side he expected to take at the meeting.

"[I will address] the need for us keeping the conduits of free trade and fair trade, to be sure the WTO works because it protects countries such as ours and all countries that are interested in trading arrangements, make sure there are no unnecessary roadblocks, or that we know we are not going to be best by protectionism, unfairly."

In briefings in Tokyo this week, Japan's officials set out Japan' wishlist as including those reforms, in particular steps the US has taken to stymie the powers of WTO dispute resolution processes.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern poses for a photo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo in September. Photo / AP
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern poses for a photo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo in September. Photo / AP

This includes blocking the appointment of members to the Appellate Body - the final "court" in disputes - so that it was on a skeleton membership and unable to address complaints at pace.

Japan also wants reform that will ensure WTO countries have to notify the WTO when they take measures such as subsidies of some industries.

New Zealand's diplomat at the WTO, David Walker, is a critical part in that leading an informal process and having recently developed a draft decision to resolve the issue.

Peters also hoped to further press home New Zealand's desire for a timely conclusion to EU free trade negotiations with European foreign ministers.

"This is going to be a very difficult situation to handle, but the sooner we get a common understanding of how our application with respect to them would be fair and not a threat to them in terms of their domestic markets, the sooner we do that the better."

THE PACIFIC

The two countries had worked together for years on the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations under the former National government in New Zealand, and now Labour.

But that relationship has strengthened further, culminating recently in an agreement to work together in the Pacific earlier this month. That was announced when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Japan in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand's "Pacific Reset" plan dovetails with Japan's Indo-Pacific Vision.

The subtext for both is to try to restrict China's influence in the region, though Japanese government officials will not bluntly say so. It's foreign policy objective on that is "quality" infrastructure - a coded way of suggesting it does not approve of China's method of working.

Professor Shujiro Urata of Tokyo's Waseda University is less restrained.

Urata says Japan is walking a tightrope in its relationships with the US and China. Like New Zealand, China is Japan's largest trading partner. And, like New Zealand, in other foreign policy respects it is closer to the US.

He said Japan has a fairly neutral stance on China's Belt and Road infrastructure projects. However, it did not like situations such as China's insistence on using its own workers for those projects: "That is not acceptable for Japan."

Japan was also wary of reports of China "taking over sea ports" it could potentially use for military purposes. Examples cited included a recent project in Greece, Sri Lanka, and there have been suggestions of it in Pacific.

Urata said China effectively put countries into "debt traps" through loans they could not afford to repay, allowing China to take over the project when the loan fell through. He said China was not even subtle about it.

Peters said he also hoped to present a Pacific perspective at the conference - which Australia's Marise Payne will also attend.

"I've got a space and time when I can do just that, and I intend to because the ramifications of climate change on the Pacific is what there needs to be a serious awareness of in the G20.

Some are, and I don't know the full picture, but I intend to portray what our concerns are.


* Claire Trevett is in Japan as part of a journalists' programme funded and organised by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.