If the events of the recent weeks have reminded us of anything, it’s that we live in a constantly changing world.
New Zealand has benefitted from a relatively benign regional environment in recent decades. As a small country with a developed economy, we have relied on our voice being heard in regional and global fora, particularly when we struggle to get traction on issues through bilateral channels.
Until recently, few would have assumed that the rules of game would shift, as they appear to have in recent weeks; yet, historically things are in a constant state of flux. The developments since Donald Trump was inaugurated as US president are an important reminder that New Zealand always needs to be on its toes in investing in its international relationships and thinking about how we best advance our interests.
If New Zealand wants to be proactive in the international arena, and to react effectively to issues as they arise, then as a country we need to have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the countries we have relationships with. This situation gives the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s work in 2017 particular resonance and importance – the Foundation's work provides a channel for growing New Zealanders' understanding of Asian perspectives, and how we might best engage with partners in the region on issues that matter to New Zealand.
The new US Administration has already created ripples throughout Asia. Perhaps most topical to New Zealanders, the United States withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has Asian countries re-evaluating their options. Will we see the US greatly reduce its presence in the region? If so, how might this void be filled by other major powers, including China? But New Zealand also needs to understand the interests and concerns of other Asian countries. For instance, while neither Indonesia nor Malaysia were among the seven Muslim-majority countries named in Trump’s controversial entry ban, the move has caused unease in those two Muslim-majority countries.
The Foundation has a busy agenda of Track II (informal diplomacy) dialogues coming up in Wellington this year and the Trump administration’s impact on the domestic politics of Asian countries will, no doubt, be up for discussion. For instance, Vietnam had invested a great deal in the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia”, and we look forward to hearing the viewpoints of a delegation from the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam when they visit Wellington in March.
As our director of research and engagement Pip McLachlan says in her article looking back on her first year in the role, “the tectonic shifts underway at present mean it’s a particularly significant time for informal diplomacy”.
Tomorrow I’ll be heading up to Auckland with several of our staff for the Auckland Lantern Festival, which is now in its 18th year. If you’re in Auckland, come along to the Asia New Zealand Foundation Entertainment Zone to see and hear 28 performers, ranging from modern rock band Askar Grey Wolf from Xinjiang to traditional craftspeople from Shanghai.
It’s important to us that the festival offers Aucklanders the chance to see something new and fresh, and perhaps a bit challenging to their perceptions of Chinese culture.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation is also supporting other activities associated with the Lantern Festival, including Phoebe Li’s fantastic photo exhibition Being Chinese in Aotearoa: A photographic journey at Auckland Museum.
Next weekend is Christchurch’s turn for the Lantern Festival, and it’s been pleasing, too, to see how much that festival has grown since the first event in 2005, becoming an attraction for visitors from around the South Island.
Both festivals feature business forums this year, run by our partners at the respective city councils. Our viewpoint at the Foundation is that relationships come before business – so it seems appropriate that business enters the events after more than a decade in each city.
Beyond Auckland and Christchurch, other cities and towns have been hosting a range of lunar new year celebrations. If you’re in Wellington, we encourage you to head along to the Chinese New Year Festival this weekend, which we’re also supporting.