Simon Draper's
June 2019 update

I always expect winter to be a quieter period, but here at Asia New Zealand Foundation it seems quite the opposite. For me it has been a period of domestic and international travel with recent talks in both Thailand and Singapore.

Together with our Director of Research and Engagement Suzannah Jessup and a delegation of New Zealand academics, I attended a Track II dialogue on the Mekong in mid-May.

Held in Bangkok and then Chiang Rai, the dialogue brought together representatives from along the Mekong – from China in the North (upstream) to Vietnam in the South (downstream) and all in between.

Participants of the 2019 Mekong Dialogue struggled to find common ground

 It is a microcosm of the trans-boundary politics, relationships and interests of the region. While everyone is defending ‘their’ right to use the 4,350km-long river for its own purposes, it appears no-one has the Mekong as a whole interests at heart. Without a vision for the future of the Mekong it could well end up dying while everyone fights for its piece of it.

I must say I was surprised at the lack of vision.

I then travelled on to Singapore to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue for my third time. This is an annual gathering of the Asia region’s Defence Ministers, attended by about 500 journalists (we sponsored Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva to attend) and upwards of 2,000 officials.

It’s a unique event in which alongside plenary talks, Defence Ministers are grilled in small rooms by the quite well-informed audience on issues of regional and global security and politics.

We had Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressing nervousness about the ongoing and building tensions between the United States and China; the French Defence Minister Florence Parly saying they’ll never back down from China’s assertions of power; and China’s own Defence Minister Wei Fenghe’s blunt and unapologetic stance on various issues, including its “crackdown” on Uighurs, China’s Muslim population, and a not very veiled warning to Taiwan that it would “fight to the end” to maintain its control over the territory.

I can’t say I left Thailand and Singapore with a strong sense that the international environment was going to get easier. Indeed, positions seemed more entrenched, anxieties higher and the trust that has been built up over the past few decades eroding. On this trajectory it is hard to know where we will be in 2020.

Southeast Asian tech entrepreneurs learn about life at Xero.

Whilst I was offshore the Foundation team have been very active this month too. While I was away the Foundation welcomed 50 very impressive new members to our Leadership Network. The Network has always been made up of New Zealand go-getters, and they’ve been joined by a new cohort of diverse and talented young people. You can read more about them here.

We had seven tech entrepreneurs visit New Zealand from Southeast Asia for Techweek19, including leaders from the Uber of Indonesia, Go-Jek and a number of tech start-ups focused on solving some of the region’s issues. You can read a column I wrote for Stuff about the importance of New Zealand building its networks with the Asia tech industry in Stuff here.

Our Leadership Network also held its largest ever hui last weekend, an immersive workshop held in Waitangi focused on Te Ao Māori. The goal of the hui was to give non-Māori a better understanding of Te Ao Māori and its links to Asia and support them to develop the way they honour the Treaty of Waitangi and represent Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a great event with lots of laughter, tears and emotion and, most importantly, learning. Well done to all involved.

New Zealand PE teachers attended a Sumo match in Japan

Last month we sent 10 Physical Education teachers to Japan to get among the growing sports fervour in Japan ahead of the Rugby World Cup later in the year. The teachers visited Atsugi, one of the host towns for the 2020 Olympics, went to a sumo tournament and a baseball match, and spent time with their Japanese counterparts building an understanding of each other’s sports education philosophies. 

We’ve also been proud to offer sponsorship and grants to a number of very talented people. That includes fashion designer Kiri Nathan, who took a hikoi of Māori fashion designers to make links in China’s garment industry; several artists and creatives to build their professional skills across Asia; and, of course, our business interns.

Some exciting news about the Foundation

Finally, some exciting news about the Foundation itself. We held a Board meeting in Christchurch early last month, and with it a get-together for our stakeholders. We were happy to announce at that event that we’re looking at growing our presence in and relationships in the South Island. Watch this space for more detailed information in the coming months.

Coming up in June

We’re about to welcome a group of agri-business entrepreneurs from North Asia to New Zealand for a week mixing and mingling with New Zealand leaders in agri-business and a Fieldays experience.

The reciprocal visit from teachers in Indonesia is also in the agenda, with the participants of the Global Schools Partnership Project meeting in New Zealand to further build their connections.

Sixteen Leadership Network members are travelling to Japan to upskill on Japanese culture and language and build connections with their Japanese counterparts.