21 Apr 2024

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon returning from Southeast Asian trip

8:54 am on 21 April 2024
Christopher Luxon official welcome at Bangkok's Government House, April 2024.

Christopher Luxon being official welcomed at Bangkok's Government House during his visit. Photo: Dan Brunskill

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has described the state of the world as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous as he seeks to strengthen Southeast Asia relationships.

He is returning on Sunday from a week-long tour of Southeast Asia, where he met with political and business leaders from the region.

Amid global tensions and escalating tensions in the Middle East, it was important that New Zealand stood up for its values and continued to push for diplomacy, he said.

"It's an incredibly disruptive time for everybody, and so making sure that we stand up for values that are important with like-minded countries - of which you saw our Singapore relationship where we have massive alignment on most of these issues [and] the same with these other countries we visited as well, Thailand and the Philippines as well - is important."

The government had consistently vocalised its position, calling for a cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, Luxon said.

"That's what we can continue to do, is continue to urge restraint, urge for diplomacy, and stand up and articulate our values well."

The visits focused on balancing the advancement of New Zealand's security and economic interests, and political issues such as the war in the Middle East had not overshadowed his mission, he said.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks to reporters in Manila, the Philippines.

In Manilla, the capital of the Philippines Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

"What you're seeing is a very big reset in orientation of our foreign policy, to make sure that we are prioritising certainly our relationship with Australia that you've seen already, certainly our relationship with Southeast Asia, and the broader Indo-Pacific.

"We want to build on what we've got, but we want to take it to the next level now.

"That's my job, is to make sure I build effective, strong, instructive, positive working relationships, personal relationships with these leaders."

Business and diplomacy together

Luxon said he balanced Aotearoa's security and economic interests throughout the trip.

The two were inter-dependent, because the economy could only prosper in a secure region, and security issues tend to escalate alongside economic instability, he said.

"If you don't have a secure stable region, you can't then create a prosperity and drive the economic interests. If you can't create prosperity and economic interests, you end up creating instability and therefore create security concerns."

Accompanying Luxon on the trip were 25 New Zealand business leaders from a range of sectors.

"Some have actually closed deals by virtue of us being able to come to the market, and me come to the market," he said.

"Others have actually started deals and have got something up and running, which is fantastic. And I've tried to make sure that I'm available to them and their customers, and if that's helpful to them do the business then that's important to me."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon presents Philippines President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Romualdez Marcos Jr with an All Blacks jersey with his name on it.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon presents Philippines President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr with a personalised All Blacks jersey. Photo: Daniel Brunskill

The trip had been about "high quality engagements" and maintaining New Zealand's relevance to its partners.

"We've got big ambitions, we've got a lot more that we want to do to lift the intensity, the urgency."

Representatives from Te Matatini had helped to set New Zealand apart, including cultural elements in the visits, Luxon said.

"It is about how you get share of mind. They help unlock and build relationships, and using culture to do that is fantastic. For me, it was very, very important they were part of the delegation."

There are six key markets of interest to New Zealand in Southeast Asia, he said; Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam.

"We've already welcomed the Vietnamese Prime Minister to New Zealand with our first state visit ... under our new government, and we've done the other three countries on this trip, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand.

"So Indonesia and Malaysia are definitely on our agenda ... they've got elections through the course of this year, so it wasn't possible to do this time.

"Those big six markets in Southeast Asia are all very different, but they create huge opportunities for New Zealand. So expect a lot more this year. We will look to do those two this year too."

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