15 Apr 2024

Christopher Luxon touches down in Singapore, kicking off Southeast Asia tour

1:48 am on 15 April 2024
Christopher Luxon speaks to media in Cairns, Australia on his way to an Asia tour.

Christopher Luxon speaks on the tarmac at Cairns during a stop on the way to Singapore. Photo: Daniel Brunskill

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has touched down in Singapore, beginning a week-long spin through Southeast Asia in which escalating global tensions are sure to colour engagements.

The RNZAF Boeing 757 arrived at Singapore's Changi International Airport about 9.30pm (NZT) on Sunday after departing Auckland's Whenuapai Airbase in the early morning.

News of Iran's strike on Israel broke during the first leg of the trip, before a brief refuelling stop in Cairns, Australia.

Speaking to reporters on the tarmac, Luxon condemned the attack and expressed deep concern about the potential for the conflict to escalate.

"We urge all sides to actually de-escalate, to show restraint ... to make sure we don't have wider conflict in the region. It's the last thing that region needs right now."

The conflict will almost certainly feature in Luxon's sit-down meetings with leaders this week, including Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong on Monday afternoon.

The trip also comes against the backdrop of Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine, as well as China's increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

Before leaving New Zealand, Luxon indicated such topics would feature in "ongoing conversations" with leaders across Southeast Asia, and he said he hoped to deepen defence relationships.

"There's no doubt about it, there's more geopolitical tension in the Indo-Pacific region in general," Luxon told RNZ.

"It's in our interests that there is stability, peace and security."

Also speaking before the trip, Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies director David Capie told RNZ that increasing global uncertainty underscored the importance of strengthening relationships in the region.

"At a time in which there is an uncertainty about the future direction of the United States, at a time in which we're seeing a much more assertive and in some ways coercive China in the region, we have an interest in supporting the frameworks that give small countries an opportunity to express their interests."

Similarly, former diplomat Charles Finny said now was the right time for smaller countries to work together and be smart about the way they operated.

"When the elephants are having a fight, you could easily get trampled - and we want to avoid that."

The "trade mission", which is Luxon's first trip outside Australasia since taking power, will swing through Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

In a written briefing provided to the 24-strong business delegation, Luxon said all three countries were critical to the government's ambition to diversity trade and drive up exports.

"I encourage you to embrace these opportunities."

Luxon described the region as "one of New Zealand's most significant export markets", noting that the bloc collectively represented the world's fifth largest economy and boasted some of the fastest growth rates.

"It will also provide a platform to advance New Zealand's visibility and interests in the region, deepening the political, economic and cultural ties critical to driving our future peace and prosperity."