Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not ruled out a face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the upcoming Apec summit.
Ardern departs for Southeast Asia on Saturday morning, traveling to Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand for the East Asia Summit, a trade mission and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting. (Apec).
Alongside the two regional forums, the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies, the G20, will meet in Bali, Indonesia. US President Joe Biden and Xi will meet one-on-one in Cambodia next week ahead of that meeting.
Ardern said she was “absolutely not” looking to meet Biden, whom she met at the White House in May. But when asked if she was looking to meet Xi, she replied: “we will confirm the bilateral agreements later.”
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Ardern and Xi last spoke directly to each other in 2021, before a meeting of Apec leaders hosted by New Zealand, virtually. If a meeting were to take place in Thailand, Ardern said it would be “completely consistent.”
“My messages will frankly be the same now as they were then. [in 2021], they reflect on the strengths and the points on which we cooperate well, and of course, these are often in the commercial space. Increasingly, we seek to work together in the field of climate and biodiversity.
“And then there are differences on issues like human rights, our position on the Uyghur people, and of course, you know, what we see as continued strategic competition in our region.”
Ardern said she would prioritize meetings with new leaders she had not yet met, a list that included Filipino Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob and President Chilean Gabriel Boric,
The week of summits marks a return to in-person regional meetings for leaders and a return to forums where Ardern made his first international appearance as prime minister in 2017.
The world has changed dramatically in the years since, and the rifts have opened further as countries emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, including in Asia-Pacific.
“Regional tensions have undoubtedly increased,” Ardern said.
China has bullied Taiwan this year with military drills and heightened fears that deepening tensions with the United States could spill over. North Korea has sent missiles over Japan and near South Korean territory in recent weeks.
Southeast Asian countries continue to face a crisis in Myanmar, where a military junta deposed an elected government and imprisoned its leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I used to sit with Aung San Suu Kyi. The seating plan put me next to her; now I’m the only woman at the East Asia Summit. So that concerns me. “, Ardern said.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, raising oil prices and triggering a food crisis that is pushing countries to turn to protectionist trade policies – a concern for New Zealand and its food-exporting economy.
Ardern would not “name any names”, but said some leaders were calling “either to move away from existing trade agreements or not to engage in future trade dialogue”.
“We want the world to have access to affordable, nutritious, high quality and reliable food sources. Our view is that free trade allows us to do that.
It remained uncertain whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would attend any of the three summits in the coming week. Ardern said, regardless, that she would not engage with any Russian representative.
“However, can you prevent passing someone in a hallway or seeing someone in a meeting room? No.
“If ever the occasion arose where I was face to face with anyone in the Russian leadership, I would say privately exactly what I say publicly: ‘War is illegal and must end, for the sake of all of us “. “
Ardern said Russia’s presence at the table was one reason it might be harder to reach consensus at both the East Asia summit and Apec.
Both forums are seeking agreement from countries on how they will cooperate on economic, environmental and security issues, among others.
Beyond discussions of the war in Ukraine, food insecurity and the Covid-19 economic crisis, climate change would be “front and center” of New Zealand’s message to countries at both forums, said Ardern said.
She was unable to attend the COP27 meeting in Egypt this week due to “logistical” difficulties.