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Goff Speech: Asia 2000 looking back to the future

Phil Goff Speech: Asia 2000 – looking back to the future

Opening speech Asia New Zealand Foundation's 10th Anniversary celebrations Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
It is a pleasure to be here tonight to help celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Asia 2000 Foundation.

On occasions such as these, it is natural to look back at where we have come from and to look forward to determine where we are headed.

Ten years ago, New Zealand had embarked on a policy of active engagement with Asian economies. We had expanded our ties with Asian countries on a number of fronts – politically, economically and diplomatically. We had also thrown open our doors to tourists, students and new migrants from Asia, many of whom were bringing fresh ideas and strong values about work and education into our communities.

This engagement helped to create opportunities at a national level, but was also changing the face of New Zealand at the local level. The government of the day recognised that businesses and communities experiencing rapid change needed to be better prepared for new relationships. In order to make that transition smoother for New Zealanders, we needed to have a good understanding of the different cultural, ethnic, political and religious backgrounds of our Asian neighbours.

It is to this end that the Asia 2000 Foundation was established, and I would like to pay tribute to the vision of its founding fathers, Don McKinnon and Philip Burdon.

Over the last decade, it has done an exceptional job of promoting greater understanding about Asia and Asian New Zealanders. The foundation has spearheaded public discussions about Asian issues and it has supported New Zealanders to work, study and do business in Asia.

Foundation-supported cultural events such as the recent Korean Film Festival in Auckland and the Indian Diwali and Chinese Lantern Festivals have introduced a vibrancy and richness to our community celebrations. Our collective knowledge of Asian cultures has grown to the extent that Asia is no longer thought of generically as a tropical, foreign region, distant and exotic in equal measure, but rather as a culturally diverse and dynamic region with which New Zealand's future is closely linked.

And it is into this future that I see the Foundation playing an even greater role.

Last year, the Prime Minister asked the Foundation to examine how New Zealand could strengthen, sustain and re-energise our links with Asia. The result was the project we now know as Seriously Asia, the centrepiece of which was the Forum held in Wellington almost a year ago.

The Asia 2000 Foundation, to its credit, was the driving force behind the Forum collating and pulling together more than 230 ideas and contributions. Further input was gathered from workshops around the country.
The Forum revealed the importance for New Zealand of successfully engaging with Asian countries and their peoples. It highlighted for us that the region was changing fast. We concluded that in order to keep pace with those developments New Zealand had to be well-informed, to act strategically and to have a clear map of our future direction.

Many of you present tonight will recall that the Seriously Asia Forum gave us all a renewed sense of determination to do more with our Asian neighbours and to do it with a sense of urgency.

Since then, the government has committed financial resources to a Seriously Asia Action Programme. Once again, the Asia 2000 Foundation, in concert with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has played a vital role in the development and implementation of that programme.

It includes projects designed to strengthen Asian communities in New Zealand, to build relationships with potential future regional leaders, to create stronger Asia-Pacific business networks, and to encourage wide-ranging policy studies. The government will have the opportunity to evaluate these projects over the next year and to build on those initiatives that will help take our relations with Asia forward. In addition, the Government has established a Ministerial Task Force on Relations with Asia. The group has a wide portfolio representation and is linked to the wider Growth and Innovation Framework. It includes the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, myself and other Ministers with key responsibilities for Asia-related work.

Our roles are to give strategic direction to work on relations with Asia and to coordinate activities across government agencies. This whole-of-government approach recognizes that effort is required across the board to make the most of our modest resources. New Zealand is small, but the task ahead and the region are huge and diverse.

Now, let's look into the future.

Earlier this year, there was considerable emphasis on building economic links with Asia. This came on the back of discussions by officials on the pursuit of Free Trade Agreements with China, the ASEAN region and a Closer Economic Partnership with Thailand. We will be pressing ahead with these discussions over the course of the next year.

Most recently, the Prime Minister has just visited India to make clear at the highest political level that New Zealand wants to expand relations with this important Asian country.

Shortly, our focus will shift to the November ASEAN Summit in Laos where we will look to discuss issues related to regional trade, security and development cooperation. And next year we will give attention to the 2005 Aichi Expo in Japan and how we might leverage-off our presence there.

Underlying all of this political, security and economic work are the fundamental goals of enhancing public understanding of Asia in New Zealand and of New Zealand in Asia. I have said this before and it is worth repeating – New Zealanders must do more listening and learning, not just selling and telling.

We need to look at ways to integrate Asian subjects into school curricula, to develop research capability, and to teach Asian languages. We also need to break out of our comfort zones and tap into the skills and expertise held by New Zealand's Asian communities. These communities are the 'human bridges' between this country and the Asia region.

It seems to me that now more than ever there is a need for organisations such as the Asia 2000 Foundation. Our future is inextricably linked with developments in the region and our foreign policy agenda for Asia is currently full.

This government is taking a long-term approach to relationships in Asia. We are there for the long haul, making commitments and not running away when we have to roll up our sleeves.

For those committed to making sure that the positive momentum of New Zealand's relationships in the region is maintained, that's one heavy workload. Management of that workload will fall in considerable part on the shoulders of Asia 2000.

That in itself is a measure of the achievements of the past decade.

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