17 Apr 2024

Watch: Luxon defends hosting Myanmar officials at ASEAN conference

2:53 pm on 17 April 2024

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has again defended hosting Myanmar officials in New Zealand for an ASEAN conference, ahead of his meeting with his Thai counterpart.

Thailand has had many thousands of people fleeing from Myanmar across the border since Myanmar's Tatmadaw military carried out a coup in February 2021.

Luxon told reporters the government condemned outright the Myanmar coup and New Zealand was simply following the policy set by ASEAN.

"We condemn outright the coup that took place. We condemn the leadership. And what we've done is we're hosting an ASEAN meeting in New Zealand - we're not a full member of ASEAN, we're hosting it."

He said the ASEAN position was to ensure no political leadership from Myanmar was involved in the conversations "but it is a belief that there is value in having constructive dialogue with officials in particular," he said.

"This is a mid-level official meeting. We have, ourselves, put in very strong travel bans against the leadership from Myanmar ... in terms of hosting an ASEAN meeting for mid-level officials, that is a policy of ASEAN to make sure they can continue some engagement and dialogue".

It was put to him that Australia had refused to allow Myanmar officials at similar ASEAN meetings.

"Yes, and that's why I'm saying it's different, the position within ASEAN is that the political leadership is not participating," Luxon said.

He expected the coup and the effects on Thailand would be raised in his discussions with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin later in the day.

"It will be discussion about just regional politics in particular," Luxon said.

"As you know Thailand has a very long border with Myanmar, there's hundreds of thousands if not millions of people that have come into Thailand as a consequence of that. Thailand is managing what is a very difficult situation and I look forward to talking to the prime minister about that."

Thailand is Southeast Asia's second largest economy and a manufacturing powerhouse with plenty of opportunity for trade, and New Zealand's 10th-largest trading partner.

Luxon will be hoping to "raise the energy" and reboot this international relationship as part of his trade and tourism-focused charm offensive throughout the region.

This second leg of Luxon's Southeast Asia trip is the first dedicated trip by a New Zealand prime minister to Thailand in more than a decade. Centre for Strategic Studies director David Capie told RNZ Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch that Luxon turning up would be enough to make a difference.

Like Luxon, Thavisin is a relatively new leader with a business background - having worked for Proctor & Gamble.

He was dubbed the Salesman PM after taking power last year.

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