Track II shows NZ's perceptions of itself not always shared by others

In December last year, Leadership Network member Wei-Wei Ng joined the Foundation’s Track II delegation that met with think tanks in Taiwan to discuss issues of mutual interest, including each country's role in the Pacific and Taiwan-NZ relations. In this article, Wei-Wei describes the experience and what she learnt from taking part in her first Track II dialogue.
Wei Wei (standing in front of a red-clay hill with fellow Leadership Network member Dhaxna Sothieson

Wei Wei (right) with fellow Leadership Network member Dhaxna Sothieson in Xingjiang in 2018

Reflecting on the recent Track II dialogue in Taipei, one thing that stood out for me personally was how New Zealanders think about New Zealand’s position in the world as opposed to how others view us.

As New Zealanders, we know very well that we have a lot to be proud of. Historically we have built a good international reputation with many other countries and we’ve got a strong track record on democracy and human rights.

Today we’re on the UN Security Council and, among other firsts, have a 37-year-old unmarried female leader with a young baby. However, one thing we can easily forget is that other countries typically think of us as small, quite powerless and far away - albeit with clean air and beautiful natural scenery.

I felt this view of New Zealand came through during some of our discussions with our Taiwanese partners. However, members of our New Zealand delegation reminded them of New Zealand’s relevance in the context of the discussions, which dealt with this really well. It helped not only to set the scene as to why we were having the dialogue but also redirected the dialogue away from a simple China vs. U.S. framing. 

The final session with the Prospect Foundation, the first of our dialogue partners, filled me with hope for a stronger connection between New Zealand, Taiwan and the Pacific, outside of both our relationships with China and the US.

Hearing from Jolan Hsieh on the links she is making between New Zealand and Taiwanese indigenous cultures and learning from what we are doing to ‘mainstream’ Maori culture was great.

Maori, Pacific Island people and Taiwanese indigenous people share many commonalities, which means there are many ways in which to work together for mutual benefit.

In the Pacific, issues around climate change and resource management, both of huge importance to the indigenous people and future generations, could be an area for Taiwan to work closely with its allies, adding real value to their relationships.

The other meetings we had with the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the Straits Exchange Foundation, Pacific Heads of Mission, Mignonne Chan and the Institute for National Defence and Security Research added more context and perspectives to issues we had discussed with the Prospect Foundation the previous day.

Hearing from Mignonne Chan, who is involved with Taiwan’s opposition KMT party, added a contrasting voice to what we had been hearing from the otherwise DPP-supported organisations – especially on how the DPP’s refusal to accept the 1992 Consensus has led to China losing trust and taking a harsher stance towards Taiwan.

As a relative outsider to foreign affairs, trade policy and international relations in my everyday work, it was hugely interesting to see how these kinds of conversations between countries happen and the part Track II plays in terms of New Zealand’s international relations.

Being based in China this year has made the delicate relationship with Taiwan feel much more real, so it was a privilege to be able to take part. I also really enjoyed getting to know members of the New Zealand delegation. I liked hearing about their areas of expertise, their career paths and perspectives on the issues discussed.

Wei-Wei Ng is a lawyer and Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network member who lives in Hong Kong.