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PM Address to ASEAN-New Zealand Gala Dinner

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister Address to ASEAN-New Zealand Gala Dinner Celebrating Thirty Years of Dialogue Partnership

Grand Hall, Parliament Wellington

9.00 pm

Monday 20 June 2005 Secretary-General Ong; your Excellencies; distinguished guests, many of whom have been involved with New Zealand/ASEAN relations for many years; ladies and gentlemen.

Tonight’s gala dinner celebrates the thirtieth year of New Zealand’s association with ASEAN as a Dialogue Partner. That partnership began in June 1975.

That was a significant year for South East Asia. The war throughout Indochina was coming to an end after the best part of three decades of fighting, although for Cambodia a domestic tyranny of horrific proportions was just beginning.

In 1975 the Cold War was still in full swing, and Asian regional politics were entangled in the competition between the two superpower blocs. Throughout South East Asia, the Second World War and the post colonial struggles which had followed it were still fresh and often painful memories.

In 1967, six nations came together to form ASEAN. Their aim was to bring regional stability, and to promote economic development and cultural exchange.

Defence and development assistance links characterised New Zealand’s relationship with ASEAN when we began our Dialogue Partnership. In 1975 we still had a substantial military presence in South East Asia. The First Battalion, New Zealand Infantry Regiment, was stationed at Terendak, Malaysia until 1969, and then in Singapore until 1989. Its soldiers were part of the local landscape.

The Colombo Plan enabled New Zealand advisers, particularly in agriculture to lend their expertise to the development of South East Asia. By the mid-1970, New Zealand’s own infant overseas aid programme was reaching out enthusiastically into Asia.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, many South East Asian students studied in New Zealand under the Colombo Plan. Private students began coming too, particularly from Malaysia. Over the years we have looked on with pride as they have taken leadership positions in their countries’ professions, corporate affairs, and governments.

How much deeper and broader our relationship with the nations of Asia is today. In the 1970s the number of New Zealand residents of Asian descent was tiny. Now the figure is around 7 per cent and projected to reach 13 per cent by 2021.

Tourism to and from the region is now big business. Last year there were 100,000 inbound tourists from ASEAN countries alone, the majority of them from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Around 56,000 New Zealanders visited ASEAN destinations in 2004.

South East Asian students studying in New Zealand continue to form a bridge between us. Of the 83,000 student visas current in 2004, 6,000 were issued to students from ASEAN countries. I am sure that the generation now studying here will go on to succeed at home just as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations did.

New Zealand’s development assistance programme is still active in South East Asia. Indeed our support for development in ASEAN runs second only to that for our own immediate neighbourhood , the South Pacific. We have a particular focus on the Mekong sub-region, the Philippines, and, especially since the Boxing Day tsunami, Indonesia. This financial year NZAID’s total aid allocation to South East Asia was over $60 million.

I’ve left the economic connection between ASEAN and New Zealand until almost last on the list. Trade between South East Asia and New Zealand has been growing steadily. Last year New Zealand exports to ASEAN totalled around $2.3 billion, or 8 per cent of our total exports. That’s up from 5.8 percent in 1990. Imports from South East Asia represent about 8.7 percent of our total. But more impressive than the current size of the trade relationship is its potential.

New Zealand already has a solid network of bilateral trade agreements in the region. We have the 2001 Closer Economic Partnership agreement with Singapore. Our FTA with Thailand takes effect from 1 July, and we are working towards an FTA with Malaysia. A “Pacific Four” economic partnership arrangement linking New Zealand with Singapore, Brunei, and Chile is due to come into force in January 2006.

Now there is the prospect of an overarching ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. This is a goal towards which we have been working with ASEAN for some years. We are delighted that negotiations were launched last year and are now underway.

Our hope is to achieve a comprehensive, high-quality FTA with ASEAN. The group’s ten countries have a combined population of more than 500 million people and enormous potential.

This leads me to underscore the importance of New Zealand’s links with ASEAN in a broad strategic context.

The region has long been important to New Zealand, not only for its large population, its economic potential, and the positive relationships which have grown up between us, but also because of its location astride the transport routes which link us to much of the rest of the world.

ASEAN sits in an influential position between two emerging giants, China and India. ASEAN is evolving to take account of the dramatic growth of these powers, particularly China. New Zealand is paying careful attention to this new dynamic in Asia and to the implications it holds for us.

Last November’s summit in Vientiane demonstrated that ASEAN’s leaders see it as a dynamic, forward-thinking organisation. It seems highly likely that ASEAN will be at the centre of moves to create a pan-Asian regional organisation or community in the future which is open, tolerant, outward-looking, and inclusive. Last year’s decision to convene an inaugural East Asia Summit in Malaysia in December is significant in this respect.

ASEAN foreign ministers have proposed that countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and India join the Summit if they meet certain conditions.

New Zealand has made it clear that we would like to be there. We have a substantive relationship with ASEAN; and we have Dialogue Partnership status. Shortly we will accede to the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation. I am pleased to say that our government’s proposal to accede has now received a favourable report from our Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Select Committee. Accession signals to our ASEAN partners that New Zealand is serious about close engagement and in being a part of future regional co-operation.

At the commemorative ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Summit in Vientiane last year, I announced a number of measures aimed at bringing our peoples closer together. This year we began a new programme of media exchanges. We are in the process of identifying our first Prime Minister’s Fellows from South East Asia. We are also setting up an ASEAN academic visitors programme.

Among other initiatives in the pipeline, one will be launched tonight – a DVD specially commissioned for young people in South East Asia to showcase New Zealand music. This was a ground-breaking venture involving a group of young people from ASEAN countries living in New Zealand. They are present tonight, and their contributions to the DVD reveal the many talents they bring to New Zealand.

Secretary-General Ong, thank you for your presence here tonight. New Zealand values its thirty years of friendship and co-operation with ASEAN. We acknowledge the important role which ASEAN has played in building regional stability, co-operation, and prosperity. We admire ASEAN’S initiatives to revitalise itself. We look forward to working alongside ASEAN as it makes its vision for a South East Asian community become a reality.

I now propose a toast to New Zealand-ASEAN relations.

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