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19 Mar 2018 23:33
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  •   Home > News > Politics

    Wait and see after NZ's 'Pacific reset'

    There's optimism, but whether New Zealand's "reset" in Pacific relations works will only be known in time, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

    Will the New Zealand government's bid at a Pacific "reset" work?

    It's very much a matter of wait and see, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

    "If you're saying we want a partnership, it's never for one side to determine whether we've been successful in that or not," she said.

    "Success for me will be determined by whether or not our Pacific counterparts say 'Yeah, it has been a real shift."

    The word reset got a lot of use as Ms Ardern and her Pacific Mission delegation hopped around the region this week.

    It first popped up days before they set off, in a speech by Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

    He spoke of "strategic anxiety" in the region regarding countries with deeper pockets moving in - and the need for New Zealand to take a fresh look at how it deals with its smaller neighbours.

    Then it was raised repeatedly, in various iterations, as Ms Ardern made announcements of new aid and development funding in Samoa, Niue, Tonga and easier access to pensions in the Cook Islands.

    But she and Mr Peters have been keen to declare the reset is about more than money - it's about a move away from a donor-recipient relationship.

    While the prime minister rated her first Pacific Mission a success, she also admitted it was hard to predict if the manoeuvre would work.

    "We need to prove that over time," she said.

    "But certainly, speaking with leaders in all of the nations we've stopped in ... there's a lot of hope for the future."

    Niuean Premier Toke Talagi spoke optimistically about the shift, as did Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna.

    And Ms Ardern was drowned in praise as she travelled, with her arrival declared Jesus-esque during prayer at Rarotonga's House of Ariki.

    She had asked not to be carried on shoulders into that ceremony - as is traditional - but on Friday played down the suggestion it was to avoid uncomfortable imagery.

    "It's hot and I'm heavy - I was told it would be absolutely no problem for me to walk," the pregnant prime minister told media.

    And if the Pacific reset was aimed at distinguishing the new government from its predecessor, it appeared to be working in Rarotonga.

    There, Mr Puna was quick to contrast the Labour-NZ First government's swift action on pensions against the reluctance of National.

    So, given the focus on listening, what has the government heard?

    "We used to import from here and other parts of the Pacific a long time ago, and then we just stopped - put (it) in the 'too hard' basket," Mr Peters said.

    "Well, why don't we take them out of the 'too hard' basket?

    "That's just one example, but there are many others ones where we've got to say: 'let's focus with new eyes on what we are doing here'."

    But looming over the Pacific charm offensive has been the question of whether New Zealand's change of stance is really about responding to China's growing influence in the region.

    Repeatedly asked about that, both Ms Ardern and Mr Peters wouldn't budge - the trip was about New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours, they insisted.

    They return from the region on Friday.


    * SAMOA - $6.5 million for boosting employment among youth and women and $3m for cyclone Gita recovery

    * NIUE - $5m for solar energy projects and $750,000 for infrastructure

    * TONGA - $7m for post-Gita recovery and $3m for fixing power lines

    * COOK ISLANDS - Easier pension access for Kiwis living in Niue, the Cook Islands or Tokelau

    * Total NZ aid budget 2015-2018 - $1.7 billion (59 per cent going to the Pacific).

    © 2018 NZN, NZCity

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