The eyes of the world will be on New Zealand when it hosts the APEC summit in 2021 – but the ramifications of the March 15 attack have added to organisers’ logistical problems.

New Zealand has been forced to review its plans for hosting a major international summit in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, with one expert warning security costs could increase significantly as a result.

However, officials are confident one stopgap solution – hiring a cruise ship to host attendees given a potential accommodation shortfall in Auckland – will not be required.

The country will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2021, a year-long series of events that will culminate in a Leaders’ Week attended by heads of state and government from around the world.

Planning for APEC has been underway for some time, but the March 15 attack on Christchurch’s Muslim community has forced a rethink.

In the wake of the attack, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) wrote to Foreign Minister Winson Peters asking for more time to make funding decisions given what had occurred. The briefing was obtained by Newsroom under the Official Information Act.

MFAT was scheduled to provide advice in April on whether or not a cruise ship would be needed to host attendees during the event, given uncertainty over the availability of Auckland accommodation and whether it would meet security requirements.

‘Heightened threat environment’

However, officials noted that APEC 2021 planning had been based on a low threat level and it was likely that work would need to be reassessed, given the likelihood that “more specialist resource would be required in a significantly heightened threat environment”.

New Zealand’s threat level was raised to high in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and currently sits at medium.

The security expectations of some APEC economies could also change following the attack, officials said.

The document said a strategic assessment of the attack’s impact on New Zealand would be undertaken, with its outcome providing some guidance on how the country’s hosting of APEC would be affected.

“Officials will provide advice as soon as is practicable about whether a cruise ship is required. Given the long lead times for chartering cruise ships, we will need to be in a position to move quickly to obtain one, if it is required.”

The Government allocated an extra $84.6 million for the costs of hosting APEC in this year’s Budget – a number which was devised by officials before the March 15 attacks.

“I would say we’ve got a bit of work to do, and two years isn’t a long time to build human capability around that space.”

Former special forces soldier and security consultant Chris Kumeroa told Newsroom that New Zealand had in the past presented itself as a “soft target”, and it was unclear whether the Government had fully addressed some of the vulnerabilities of concern.

Kumeroa said organisers would be carrying out a countrywide assessment of the security tools, capabilities and resources for the event, with an eye on the wider geopolitical climate.

The security planning would need to be packaged up for foreign states so they could have confidence in New Zealand’s ability to protect visitors.

It was possible other nations could provide security support if needed, while private organisations would likely be needed to backfill some of the technical roles and expertise needed such as bomb detection squads and the NZ Police Special Tactics Group.

“I would say we’ve got a bit of work to do, and two years isn’t a long time to build human capability around that space. It’s not only training them, it’s getting them into the theatre so normalising the response, that capability.”

The security costs could increase by 50 percent compared to hosting the summit in a “business as usual” environment, Kumeroa said.

APEC New Zealand head Andrea Smith told Newsroom organisers were still looking at how the March 15 attack would affect security requirements for the event. However, it could not make any details public due to “operational reasons”.

New Zealand had been working closely with Chile, which is hosting this year’s event, to assess the likely attendance levels and did not believe a cruise ship would be needed for 2021.

“At this stage, two years out from Leaders’ Week we believe we’ll be able to meet the accommodation needs of the delegates attending,” Smith said.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

Leave a comment