Simon Draper's April 2022 Update

There’s no better way to gauge the mood of a nation than to talk to well-connected people on the ground who understand the country intimately. This is why it was so enlightening to speak with the Foundation’s Asia Honorary Advisers (HAs) this month for our biennial meeting.
A screen shot of the Honorary Advisers meeting

Honorary Advisers Zoomed in from around Asia to discuss regional developments and Foundation activities

Our Asia Honorary Advisers are a group of eminent people working in various sectors across 12 countries who provide the Foundation with insights and advice, and advocate on our behalf. They are integral to the Foundation’s work in the region.

While the war in Ukraine, economic turmoil in Sri Lanka, the cost of living and income inequality were hot topics for discussion, top of list - as I wrote in my latest opinion piece for Stuff - was how New Zealand (and the Foundation) can begin the process of re-strengthening connections frayed by two years of little or no in-person contact.

The message coming through loud and clear was while attitudes vary from country to country and there is still uncertainty on the road ahead, being early movers - reaching out and getting feet on the ground in Asia - would pay off.

New Zealand’s response to COVID has shone a favorable light on us on the international stage but being too slow out of the blocks could still see us relegated to the back of the queue.

This is why it was encouraging to see Prime Minister Ardern will be leading a trade delegation to Japan and Singapore next week, where she will meet with the leaders of both countries and, to paraphrase her, signal New Zealand is is open for business and looking to rebuild connections.

As well as this being an important message to our neighbors in Asia, in my eyes the visit is equally pertinent to a domestic audience. Not only does it communicate that it is time to start re-engaging in person with overseas partners, but by making Asia her first port of call Ardern is also sending a clear message to New Zealanders about the growing importance of the region to this country.

At the Foundation, we are also looking at how we as an organization can start re-connecting with our networks in Asia. In upcoming months, staff will be travelling to Asia to meet stakeholders, with the goal of re-establishing offshore programmes. And, in the not-to-distant future, we hope to once again be providing opportunities for entrepreneurs, teachers, business interns, artists, Track II delegates, sportspeople, journalists and academics to experience Asia first-hand. I’ve said it many times before: there’s nothing quite like visiting and meeting local counterparts to deepen your understanding of a country and make lasting connections.

In saying this, as our Honorary Advisers pointed out, re-engaging will not be a matter of just picking up where we left off – Asia has changed (as has New Zealand) and how we engage in the region will have to be considered in the context of this new environment.

In the meantime, much of what we are doing remains online. On Wednesday (13 April), the Foundation held its 13th Track II Roundtable Dialogue with the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. We gathered five of New Zealand’s top foreign policy and trade thinkers to meet with their Vietnamese counterparts for an insightful and illuminating online discussion.

We’ve always found our partners in Hanoi to be particularly generous in sharing their thoughts with us on a range of bilateral and regional issues – from dealing with ever-evolving great power relations, to managing tensions in the South China Sea or along the Mekong River; and this year, how developments in Russia/Ukraine have impacted on foreign policy considerations across the region.

In a year in which New Zealand will reach notable milestones with China, South Korea and Japan – respectively the 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries since the establishment of diplomatic relations - I hope it can also be one in which we as a nation, as well as the the Foundation, can reaffirm the bonds we have in Asia.

I hope you all have a great Easter break.

Mā te wā

Simon Draper