Ardern and ASEAN on side
By Richard Harman (author)
The Prime Minister has arrived in Bangkok for the annual ASEAN series of summits to find that some of her personal political themes are starting to get much wider currency.
Most notably yesterday, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, described climate change as the "defining issue of our time" and said that rising inequality was a danger everywhere.
“We are facing tense and turbulent times around the globe," he told the 11 ASEAN Heads of Government at their summit.
Jacinda Ardern is there for the East Asian summit which incorporates the US, China, Russia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand meeting with the ASEAN leaders both in formal sessions and in separate bilateral meetings.
NZ Officials believe it is one of the country’s key means of engaging on security issues.
But this year, Thailand has declared the theme to be "advancing partnership and sustainability."
Ardern has responded to that.
In a speech to the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, which is running alongside the political ASEAN she said for New Zealand, growth was not just about GDP.
“Although I note that we are currently outpacing most similar countries on that front.
“It’s about how we safeguard our resources for future generations.
“And it’s about how we look after our youth, our elderly, and our most vulnerable members of society.
“Intergenerational well-being needs to be at the heart of our decision-making, including in trade policy.”
The speech almost sounded like an echo of the UN Secretary-General.
“Rising inequality is a danger everywhere,” he said.
“Trade and technology tensions are building.
“Growth forecasts are being revised down, and unease and uncertainty are going up.
“And this is a global phenomenon, and no region is immune.
“As I said at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, I see another concern emerging on the horizon the possibility of a great fracture with the world's largest economy splitting the globe into two, each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, its own Internet and artificial intelligence capacities, and its own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies.
“We must do everything possible to avert this great fracture and maintain that universal system, a universal economy with universal respect for international law, a multipolar world with stronger multilateral institutions.”
Ardern will meet with all the ASEAN members plus the other five invited countries in a three-hour session this afternoon.
Though issues like the South China Sea or the situation on the Korean Peninsula might have been expected to dominate these meetings, it is clear that the US-China standoff has put the focus on to the political economy of the region.
Inequality and climate change will be on the agenda.
But she has already begun discussions with some ASEAN leaders; with Malaysian Prime Minister, Mohamad Mahathir and Thailand's Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
“The Prime minister of Thailand did raise the issue of inequality.
“And, of course, he's talking domestically a massive population base where he wants to see the benefits of economic growth being shared more evenly.
“That's an agenda that in New Zealand we share, particularly around the trade agenda.
“And so I think there's some common ground there, and that's something that I will touch on.
“But of course, there's a range of subject matters that we'll be talking about.”
Those, of course, will include the South China Sea and the ASEAN proposal for a Code of Conduct to cool tensions between various ASEAN countries and China
China's Premier, Li Keqiang, is in Bangkok, and he endorsed the Code of Conduct.
“A very important landmark is the completion of the first reading of the CoC (Code of Conduct), " he said in his opening remarks to his meeting with the ASEAN leaders.
“We stand ready to work with ASEAN countries, building on the existing foundation and to. Strive for new progress in the CoC according to the three-year timeframe to maintain and uphold long term peace and stability in the South China Sea. “Chinese jargon Li’s comments would be seen as conciliatory by the ASEAN members.
Ardern is expected to meet Li today, but nothing has been confirmed.
In her meeting with Mahathir she talked about the cancellation of APEC in Santiago and how Malaysia was to host the meeting next year then New Zealand in 2021. She pledged to work with Malaysia on making those meetings a success. (Though Mahathir did complain that it would have taken him 34 hours to fly to Chile.)
The Prime Minister was last night at the ASEAN Leaders’ gala dinner --- seated between Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Ardern hosted him in New Zealand last year.
This is Ardern’s third East Asian summit, and that counts as Mahathir reminded her; this is a region which does not change leaders very often, and it is one which places a huge premium on personal relationships.
Today the meetings will get serious.