Simon Draper's August 2020 Update

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge all of our colleagues and friends who are in Auckland in COVID-19 alert level 3 – hopefully you are all feeling safe and secure in your respective bubbles. Although the re-emergence of COVID on our shores was not entirely unexpected, after 100 days without community transmission it still came as a bit of a shock. There is some comfort to be found in having been through this before and shown that we can eliminate the virus from our shores.
Simon Draper with diplomats and representatives from Asia high commisions

Asia diplomats based in Wellington met for lunch with the Foundation last week

We’ve seen other countries face similar setbacks in recent weeks. New Zealanders are probably most aware of the situation in Victoria, Australia, where many of us have family and friends. But fresh outbreaks have also been reported in Vietnam, Hong Kong, South Korea, to name just few. It’s a reminder going “back to normal” is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Amid continuing uncertainty, it is encouraging to see growing optimism about a vaccine, with more than 30 now in human clinical trials globally. Health has already become a bigger part of international diplomacy – not only in relation to vaccine access but also PPE and health and safety protocols – and New Zealand will need to continue to talk closely with countries in Asia on health-related issues.  

Access to vaccines is a topic of considerable international interest at the moment, with various countries moving to secure agreements on future supply. Last week I was interviewed by Bloomberg on vaccine diplomacy. As I noted, a nationalistic “each country for itself” approach that aims to guarantee an individual country access is a false economy in our interconnected world. Unequal global access will mean higher humanitarian costs and reduced tourism flows, for instance. New Zealand is one of the countries to have joined the international “COVAX” initiative, which aims to ensure equitable global access.

Asia New Zealand Foundation staff were able to enjoy a few in-person events before the raising of the COVID alert levels. We took the opportunity to catch up with Asia diplomats based in Wellington, gaining perspectives on how the pandemic was affecting their homelands. Our diplomatic colleagues also showed considerable interest in the New Zealand government’s quick response to the threat, and in its ongoing health strategy.

We also had the pleasure of reconnecting with the young leaders whom the Foundation chose as being “25 young people to watch” last year, acknowledging their contributions towards building ties between New Zealand and Asia. We have been really impressed by this group, who are playing a continued role in the connections between New Zealand and Asia even amid geographic limitations.

Simon speaking to a gathering of the Foundation's '25 to Watch and Leadership Network members

Simon recently caught up with the Foundation's '25 to Watch', the 25 young people the Foundation has identified as leading the way in developing New Zealand's ties with Asia

Being in a room with them was an energising experience and a shot of optimism about the future in what is otherwise an uncertain time. It’s always good to be reminded of the passion and insights that this upcoming generation can provide – and be challenged by them at times; I certainly had to be on my A-game.

While they inspire optimism, for young people leaving school and entering the workforce, optimism must be hard to come by at times. Job opportunities have become tighter and the traditional rite of passage the Kiwi OE is off the cards for the foreseeable future. These challenging times that we are living through are perhaps harder for young New Zealanders than anyone else, so I hope we, as a nation, provide space for them to have input into the big decisions that are being made on their behalf; decisions that will impact them for years to come.

Finally, amid continued geographic barriers, the arts are more important than ever when it comes to communicating across cultures. 

With this in mind, the Foundation is calling for expressions of interest from arts practitioners who have previously participated in our programmes to produce works that reflect the bonds that connect Asia and New Zealand.

The commissions are for up to $5000 each and are for producing a work that can be displayed on the Foundation’s digital channels, so a video, photo essay, sound recording and the like. I encourage arts practitioners to make a submission.

The Foundation views its 25-year investment in arts and culture as an important one because we know the value this plays in bridging gaps and connecting people of diverse backgrounds. With the arts community struggling due to lockdown and amid uncertainty about events and reduced international collaboration, we hope that this initiative goes some small way towards filling a gap.  

Noho ora mai,

Simon Draper