Geoffrey Miller: New analysis of Nanaia Mahuta’s statements offers clues to her foreign policy agenda

A new analysis by the Democracy Project of Nanaia Mahuta’s public statements and tweets over the past six months reveals some intriguing initial insights into her foreign policy agenda.

By the end of Wednesday this week, Nanaia Mahuta had made 31 formal statements or speeches on foreign affairs in her time as minister. On Twitter, she had published 85 original tweets (i.e. excluding retweets of others) on foreign affairs over the same time period.

Of the 31 official statements and speeches on the Beehive website, eight statements related to either Australia or the Pacific. Four were concerned with the provision of Covid-19 assistance and vaccines. Three releases focused on China (two joint statements with Australia and Mahuta’s China Council speech). Two statements addressed the military crackdown in Myanmar, while two were on New Zealand’s hosting of APEC 2021.

By comparison, Mahuta’s statements on Twitter are far more wide-ranging – and arguably more interesting. Of the 51 tweets that related to specific countries, 27 (52%) were on countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Perhaps fittingly, when considering the number of tweets relating to a single country, the winner was a tie between the US and China, including Hong Kong (eight tweets each). Mahuta also tweeted six times on the military crackdown in Myanmar.

While issues such as Myanmar and China were also covered by official press statements, in many other cases, tweets covered issues that Mahuta had not addressed elsewhere. For example, Mahuta has tweeted three times on the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and twice on the detention of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. Mahuta has also used Twitter to issue her only comments on the Middle East – aside from a brief and vague mention in a February speech to the diplomatic corps – stating New Zealand’s support both for the Al-Ula Declaration that restored diplomatic ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and for the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel.

Among the absences from Nanaia Mahuta’s press statements or tweets has been any comment on the recent tensions between Iran and Israel, the military build-up by Russia along the Ukrainian border earlier this month, or the post-election crackdown in Belarus that resulted in mass detentions and torture of unarmed protesters. A single tweet issued by Winston Peters last August remains New Zealand’s only official public comment on Belarus to date.

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