What were some of the themes that emerged from the fellowship?
Ageing populations and population decline are megatrends throughout the region. East Asia’s population is below the replacement level of fertility (2.2 children per woman) and there is a “flight from marriage” - people simply aren’t getting married. These trends feed into the role of women in the workforce and the associated issues around childcare and support for families.
Samantha Hayes with fellow journalists at Miao Village, China
We talked a lot about trade, regional security and the significance of the South China Sea dispute on stability in the Asia Pacific region. The dispute is destabilising in the long term, and while it is a conflict between China, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, it is significantly impacting the relationship between China and the United States.
Other themes we discussed included what the Trans Pacific Partnership can achieve for the Asia Pacific region. China would be the biggest loser under the trade deal as it would suddenly give other manufacturing countries an advantage.
Climate change was an issue constantly lurking in the background, alongside a vocal drive to be more environmentally responsible.
An overarching theme was who will be the great superpower of this and the next century - the United States or China.
What did you learn about how these themes impact on New Zealand (if they do)?
I feel like everything we studied has an impact on New Zealand one way or another. Tension between China and the United States over the South China Sea dispute spilled into Prime Minister John Key’s trip to China in May and this will continue to impact our trade relationship with China.
Japan and US inaction on climate change allows New Zealand to avoid making the tough decisions because the big players aren’t moving yet. It’ll be interesting to watch China in this space in the coming years, as I felt there was a real commitment to reducing greenhouse gases from Beijing.
How did participating in the Jefferson Fellowship add to your knowledge of the region?
I learnt more in three weeks than I have in the last three months or three years!
Having never been to China or Japan, it was a chance to get to know the two cultures and begin to understand how they function, discover what is important to them and the big issues they are tackling now and will need to tackle in the future.
The Fellowship built a foundation of understanding of the region that will allow me to hit the ground running the next time I am there.
It has given me a long list of stories that I plan to follow up during future trips to the region.
What was it like interacting with other reporters from around the Asia-Pacific region?
Travelling with thirteen other journalists through cities, airports, hotels, on-and-off buses and in-and-out of conference rooms was a bit like herding cats. Ann Hartman from Honolulu’s East West Center did a wonderful job.
I struggled a bit with the tendency of print reporters to ask long winded, multi pronged questions in situations where we didn’t have a lot of time, but I think I learned as much from the group as I did from the speakers and experts.
What most surprised you about Japan and China?
I hadn’t been to China or Japan before. I expected to be frustrated by China’s lack of action on climate change. In fact, it was the opposite. In almost every meeting, climate change related or otherwise, there was talk of China becoming an eco-civilisation. While it may largely be just that - talk at this stage - it is more than either Japan or America are doing to convince their citizens they need to tackle climate change.
I found Japan to be confronting in many ways, specifically the role of women as secondary or subservient to men, and I found it incredibly offensive to be served live squid at a planned group lunch.
Ann Hartman did well to remind us that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. While I feel I have learned a great deal, I am only beginning to understand these complex and unfamiliar cultures.