Director policy and research Pip McLachlan joined the Foundation earlier this month, taking over from Andrew Butcher
What interested in you in the role?
Without sounding too corny, I was a believer in the value of Asia New Zealand Foundation’s work well before the opportunity to work here arose. I had regular contact with colleagues from the Foundation when I worked at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing, 2010-2013. I got a really positive sense of the contribution the Foundation was making to New Zealanders’ understanding of China, be it through the artists’ residencies, media internships or Track II engagement.
There’s a lot going on, not just with China, and the Foundation is making a tangible difference in what New Zealanders are learning and experiencing about Asia. As our annual Perceptions of Asia survey is showing us, New Zealanders are feeling more involved or connected with Asian peoples and cultures – and this goes hand in hand with more positive feelings about Asia.
Can you tell us about your time working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)?
All up, I worked for 17 years at MFAT, doing the usual eclectic mix of roles. My first posting was to Berlin, shortly after the capital’s shift from Bonn. It was a hugely exciting time to be there: the EU was about to expand its membership to include countries that only decades before had lain behind the Iron Curtain.
But when I look back, my time in Beijing stands out as a real career highlight. My primary focus was on China’s foreign and security policy. Beyond the energy of the bilateral relationship with China, I was fascinated by the broader dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region, and their implications for New Zealand’s security and prosperity. I was in constant learning mode, with wise China hands in and outside the Ministry guiding me along the way. Some of these are in our own Track II community, and I am looking forward to re-engaging with them in this new role.
What do you regard as the value of this role?
We know that the majority of New Zealanders (four out of five, to be precise) think conflicts, threats or instability in Asia could have at least some impact on New Zealand. We have a community of thinkers in New Zealand who are well-connected with the region and work hard to bring some of these issues into the light. I know from my time working with Government how valuable these discussions are. Our experts can traverse issues with a depth and independence that is often not available to officials. Through our research grants and Track II programme, the Foundation provides a further platform for this work.
What will be your priorities in your first weeks in the role?
I am still very much in osmosis mode. My primary focus is getting out and about to meet with the Track II community around New Zealand. I am keen to hear their views on the Foundation’s Track II and research programme – in particular, ways in which we might further build and nurture the Track II pool.
We will shortly be releasing our Perceptions of Asia survey for 2015. The survey has been running since 1997 and shows how New Zealanders’ attitudes towards Asia and its peoples have changed over this time. I’m looking forward to making a contribution to the discussions the report prompts. We also have some commissioned research relating to ASEAN which will be published shortly.
Our Track II dialogue with the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam will be held 7-8 April. We will soon be calling for expressions of interest from the Track II community and our Leadership Network members. We are finalising the agenda with the Academy at present but expect that it will be an opportunity to hear Vietnamese perspectives on the regional economic architecture; regional security issues such as the South China Sea and terrorism; relations with the US and China, in particular, as well as the bilateral relationship.