Journal article

Diplomacy by default? New Zealand and Track II diplomacy in Asia

International relations New Zealand Asia

Cost-cutting measures have resulted in possibly the most radical restructuring of New Zealand's foreign service in its history, increasing the importance of informal, or "Track II", diplomacy.


The term "Track II diplomacy‟ was coined in 1982 to refer to the methods of diplomacy that were outside the formal government system, that is between non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts, private citizens and other non-state actors. Specifically, Track II diplomacy may involve academics, journalists, and occasionally politicians, diplomats and military personnel acting in their “private capacity”. Track II diplomacy may also act as a source of advice to governments, be a laboratory to test ideas, provide an alternative diplomatic route when official routes become blocked or stalled, broker between governments and NGOs and academics, and provide a range of "socialising‟ functions, where potential adversaries get to meet and know each other where otherwise they may not be able to. Track I diplomacy, by contrast, “represents the official government channel for political and security dialogue in the region” and those who participate in it are officially representing their state.

There is also Track 1.5 diplomacy, a term coined by Australian Paul Dibb, which can be non-official meetings attended by officials in their "private capacities” and which focus on specific issues of interest to Track I. In other words, both the content of the meeting and the background of the participants are closer to Track I than might be usually found in a strict understanding and practice of Track II diplomacy, at which no officials attend. The distinction between Track 1.5 and Track II “may only be a question of emphasis” but, nevertheless, resolves some definitional disputes around Track II and brings together benefits of Track II (informality, ability to raise new issues) with the particular needs of Track I.

Globally, there are tectonic shifts in the regional balance of power in broad terms from the North Atlantic to East Asia. In short-hand we may consider them in various descriptive (and somewhat simplistic) binaries such as the rise of China and the decline of the United States; the economic crisis in Europe and the United States and the economic growth in Asia. Or we might consider it via various crises: the South China Sea, the Korean peninsula, Sino-Japanese tensions. Or we may list a litany of problems facing the world in the 21st century: resource scarcity, climate change and ecological damage, spread of dangerous weapons, crime, piracy, illegal immigration, mounting unemployment and the mismatch between financial and institutional integration and the liberalisation of markets. However we may choose to divide up the Asian region and its issues, both the region and its issues are globally important.

Closer to home New Zealand also has its own tectonic shifts in the way its official diplomacy is resourced. As with much else of the public service in New Zealand and in other Western democracies, cost-cutting measures—cutting the cloth to fit economically strained times—have seen „‟efficiencies” made and, in the case of New Zealand‟s foreign service, probably the most radical restructuring in its history.

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