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PM: Address at Asia NZ Summit

Thursday 14 September 2006

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at Asia New Zealand Summit
‘Preparing for a Future with Asia’

Rangimarie Room No 1, Te Papa

11.00 am

Thursday 14 September 2006

My thanks go to Asia New Zealand Foundation for organising today’s conference, and for the work done on the Preparing for a Future with Asia report which provides the background for today’s discussion.

Everyone participating today is here because of what they can offer in terms of ideas about our future relationships with Asian nations.

Everyone here will be acutely aware of the importance of those relationships – and may even be of relatively common mind about how to advance them.

But, as the Preparing for a Future with Asia report suggests, there are significant gaps in our engagement with Asia as a whole, and those are gaps we cannot afford to leave unfilled.

The case for engagement with Asia is obvious, and scarcely needs restating to this informed audience. Asia provides half of our top twenty export markets, and is a major source of our tourists and international students. According to most future projections, Asia’s economic dynamism will continue, fuelled largely by growth in China and India. No other region will be able to match such opportunities for New Zealand over the next decade or two.

As well, Asia’s security and stability matters greatly to New Zealand. Strife between Asian nations, tension between China and Taiwan, or super power rivalry in the region would all cause great concern here. I place a premium on peace, stability, and development in the region, because those are preconditions for New Zealanders enjoying a high quality and quantity of life.

In 2003, after discussion between me, Asia 2000 as it then was, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Seriously Asia project was launched. The major conference held in Wellington three years ago was a catalyst in refocusing the attention of NZ Inc on Asia, and has certainly helped guide a more proactive government approach.

Since 2003, New Zealand’s relations with the region have expanded and deepened across many sectors: from trade and economic co-operation, to political and security dialogue, science and technology, education, arts and culture, and development assistance. Our government is involved in facilitating interfaith dialogue, something unimaginable even five years ago.

By the end of this year, there will be nine New Zealand government agencies [MFAT, NZTE, Customs, MAF, Police, Defence, MORST, NZIS, Education] based in China. It’s a big job for our ambassador in Beijing to co-ordinate that effort, and it’s a big commitment from the government in terms of resources. But we recognise that we need a substantial presence there if we are to engage on a credible basis.

I myself have made many trips to the region during my time as Prime Minister to meet with Asian counterparts, both bilaterally and in the context of regional meetings. As those present appreciate, nothing can replace personal contact when it comes to dealing with Asia.

The ongoing work of Asia: New Zealand Foundation and many other players across the private sector, academia, local government, science, arts and cultural organisations and others has ensured that our non-official contacts with Asia have also broadened.

There’s no question then that NZ Inc is actively involved with Asia. The relationships we have, bilaterally and regionally, are good ones.

But Asia as a region is undergoing rapid change. Its nations are looking for ways to encourage greater integration, politically and economically. In our government, we are watching closely the emergence of new Asian regional groupings, and of the growing “noodle bowl” of preferential trading arrangements criss-crossing Asia.

New Zealand’s positioning in the new regional architecture is critical. We cannot afford to be left out. Thus the invitation for us last year to join the East Asia Summit was significant. So was our role in developing the first Trans Pacific free trade agreement. We need to be continually attuned to new regional trends and be geared up to play a constructive role vis à vis them.

But our future with Asia can’t be built by government alone. Of course we have a strong leadership role and a major part to play. But the relationship needs to be fleshed out by other sectors building on the connections they have with Asia.

The very timely Asia Knowledge Working Group report identified the gaps in our knowledge of the region and set out the challenges for our business, education, and cultural sectors, and our media. I hope today’s summit will develop concrete ideas on how to meet those challenges. What are the key areas which NZ Inc should now be focusing on. And in what ways can each organisation and sector contribute to building relationships with Asia?

Economic Links

In government and business there is a high level of appreciation of the futility of trying to compete at the low value end of the market. But western economies are now being confronted by rapidly developing Asian economies which are competitive right along the value chain, for example, in high-end manufacturing, and eventually into the service sectors.

Our government’s economic strategy to transform the economy recognises the critical importance of innovation and entrepreneurship to lift the value of what we do, along with our productivity and global competitiveness. As well we have worked hard to improve New Zealand’s trade access through closer economic partnership agreements.

We now have FTAs in place with Singapore and Thailand as well as with Brunei and Chile through P4. We are in negotiations with China and Malaysia, and with all of ASEAN. But it’s not enough just for government to open the doors for trade. We need business to follow through on the opportunities.

The Asia Knowledge Working Group report revealed a lack of Asia-related skills among businesses to take advantage of those opportunities in Asia. One challenge would be to build Asia expertise in New Zealand businesses and business schools so that we become better at identifying where our high value niches in Asia can be.

If we are to leverage our capabilities in innovation, we need to forge closer ties with the key drivers of technology in Asia. This also calls for deeper and stronger linkages between universities, crown research institutes, and the private sector here at home.

And we need to make sure our sectoral strategies work for us. Tourism, for example, is our “shop-front window”. It contributes to other economic sectors such as education, investment, and migration, and it has an impact on the broader knowledge and connections between Asia and New Zealand.

Next year, Asia will feature prominently in activities around Export Year. Participation and leadership by business and industry will be critical, with the government’s role being to facilitate initiatives developed by and for the business community. Ideas for Export Year developed here will have a ready audience in government.

The role of media

There has been some good reporting of Asian matters in our media in recent years, particularly in business reporting. But coverage is intermittent, and the lack of a regular news feed or any New Zealand-employed correspondents based anywhere in Asia is a problem.

The withdrawal at the end of last year of TVNZ’s Hong Kong-based journalist was very disappointing, and it’s been years since there was an NZPA representative in Hong Kong. To be fair, NZPA was the only New Zealand news media organisation which sent a journalist to cover my visit to the Philippines in March, albeit with the partial support of an Asia New Zealand Foundation grant.

We have to better understand and engage with the world in which we are increasingly making our living. International cable news channels – while they can be highly informative – do not necessarily serve our needs. What we need is news which is New Zealand-relevant and able to offer a New Zealand perspective on what is happening.

There is also a demand for information which goes beyond market intelligence, to analysis of the underlying trends and changes occurring in the region. More in-depth reporting from Asia would assist businesses with their long term strategies, as well as lifting our understanding of the complex global business environment.


In education, the draft New Zealand curriculum sets the direction for learning for all New Zealand school students, and feedback on it would be appreciated. There are two key aspects of the curriculum of relevance to Asia. One is a new provision for language learning, and the second is learning about the world in which we live in, which will have a focus on increasing knowledge of Asia and its people.

The draft curriculum also aims to help develop capabilities which New Zealanders will to engage well with the region. We need students to develop resilience and enterprise, critical thinking skills, the ability to use and create knowledge, and have an understanding of global communities.

There are some specific challenges. How do we get New Zealanders to value and accept the learning of a second language, for example? Language learning is vital not just in itself, but also in breaking down cultural barriers and opening up a bigger world. How do we improve knowledge and understanding about Asia among our teachers?


Our government sees a critical role for cultural diplomacy in building New Zealand’s image and brand offshore, in support of our wider objectives. Presenting ourselves as a diverse, talented, and creative nation, as we are, influences the way in which we are perceived in other areas, such as business, education, and the sciences.

It is important that our cultural scene appropriately reflects our local Asian communities and our location within the Asia-Pacific region. So the emergence of gifted young artists and performers of Asian descent, many of whom are exploring their identity as Asian-New Zealanders, is an exciting trend. Local communities and councils have also been active in recognising our diverse heritage, and events such as the Lantern and Diwali festivals which Asia New Zealand Foundation has sponsored have become very popular.

It is also important that New Zealanders have opportunities to learn about the changing face of Asian culture. In many Asian countries, there is a vibrant and contemporary cultural scene. Knowing what is of interest to Asian audiences can shape our dealings with the region across a range of areas.

Through my close involvement in this area, I sense that there is much appreciation and willingness in the cultural sector to engage with Asian audiences. The challenges are in knowing how to go about doing this most effectively, how to develop the appropriate networks and how to build Asia expertise. Our Cultural Diplomacy International Programme’s focus on North Asia is helping us to build useful links, as are Creative New Zealand’s international artist residencies in Asia, currently in Beijing and New Delhi. Work is also underway to create networks with the Asian communities at home.

As well our government has been active in developing screen co-production agreements and co-operation arrangements in Asia with such agreements reached already with Singapore, Korea, and China.

Committing to Asians in New Zealand

In discussing how we increase our Asia knowledge and skills, there is of course a resource within New Zealand which already possesses that expertise: New Zealand citizens and residents of Asian descent. Tapping into their networks and skills makes good sense. Anecdotal evidence though suggests that new Asian Kiwis can still find it difficult to settle in New Zealand. Employment has been a particular problem in the past, with new migrants generally the last to be hired – although our very low unemployment and skills shortages have helped change that. Our new migrants are keen to make an effective contribution to New Zealand life. It’s up to each of us in our respective fields to ensure that they can.


In conclusion, Asia matters a great deal to us. But it is a vast and diverse region. If our small nation is to make an impact, we need to work in an integrated way to maximise our resources and effort. Partnerships between government and other sectors are critical in this endeavour.

As well as taking up the opportunities which exist for us in the region, we also need to contribute to it, and give it good reasons to deal with us. We need long term, sustainable relationships. That isn’t easy given the linguistic, cultural, and other differences between us and Asia. But any steps we take to bridge those differences will be worthwhile. And today is a good time to work on those bridges.

Thank you for making the time to attend today’s summit. It is an important step on what the report calls a journey, and I look forward to hearing your views and the conclusions of this meeting.


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