The Value of Closeness: A U.S. Diplomat’s Reflections on Time in New Zealand and Australia

By Richard Teare

ANZAC Day Dawn Service, State war memorial, Kings Park Western Australia. Source: Wikimedia photo by Gnangarra, used under a creative commons license.

ANZAC Day Dawn Service, State war memorial, Kings Park, Western Australia. Source: Wikimedia photo by Gnangarra, used under a creative commons license.

It was my good fortune to be assigned as deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassies in New Zealand from 1983 to 1986 and Australia from 1986 to 1989.

New Zealand and Australia are congenial places for a U.S. diplomat to work; we have the commonalities of language, heritage, and ideals, and we work together both for our mutual interests and in the spirit of “mateship.” Relations are naturally close, and access to information is easy.

An example of the level of trust and coordination between the United States and Australia occurred in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in China. The U.S. embassy gave refuge to dissident physicist Fan Lizhe, and the Australian embassy to popular singer-songwriter Hou Dejian. Canberra and Washington were soon sharing classified reports and instructions. Hou was able to leave Beijing after two months, Fan after a year.

But my duties also had a lighter side. On one occasion, as part of a tourism-promotion campaign for Disneyland, I escorted an actor dressed as Mickey Mouse to call on New Zealand’s then-prime minister David Lange. A photo of the two of them appeared on the front page of the Dominion newspaper the next day, and some readers claimed they could not tell who was who.

Cooperation between Australia and New Zealand on international security matters has been, and remains, salient today, although not without some degree of rivalry. New Zealand was proud of winning a seat on the UN Security Council for 1993-94, having beaten Sweden, and there was some schadenfreude in New Zealand when Australia failed to win a seat four years later, losing out to Sweden. Today, Australia sits on the council for 2013-14, and New Zealand is campaigning for a seat in 2015-16.

I am pleased that U.S. relations with New Zealand have largely been restored after the crisis of the mid-1980s, when the United States ended its responsibilities to New Zealand under the Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS) Security Treaty. When New Zealand returned to the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) in 2012 after an absence of more than 25 years, its ships had to berth at the civilian port in downtown Honolulu; at this year’s RIMPAC, they will be welcomed, with other participants, at Pearl Harbor.

Australia and New Zealand are natural, close, and trusted friends of the United States. We value our trilateral relationship highly. I am privileged to have served in both countries, and made and retained many friends in each. ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is the ideal time to reflect on these close relationships and commit to maintaining and deepening them in the future.

Ambassador Richard W. Teare is a non-resident Senior Associate of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies and the Pacific Partners Initiative at CSIS. Read more by this author here.

1 comment for “The Value of Closeness: A U.S. Diplomat’s Reflections on Time in New Zealand and Australia

  1. Mike Owens
    April 26, 2014 at 09:30

    Well done, Dick. Evokes many warm memories. Regards, Mike

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