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PM Chris Luxon is spending the week in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
PM Chris Luxon is spending the week in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

VideoApril 15, 2024

PM eyes new export markets on week-long Southeast Asian tour

PM Chris Luxon is spending the week in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
PM Chris Luxon is spending the week in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

As Winston Peters returns from yet another foreign tour, his boss has jetted off to visit the leaders of Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

PM bound for Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines

Chris Luxon has a busy week ahead, having flown out on Sunday morning for an Southeast Asian (SEA) tour aimed at strengthening New Zealand’s relationships across the region. First stop Singapore, where his time with veteran prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is expected to be “somewhat of a love-in”, writes Newsroom’s Laura Walters. Luxon is an avowed fan of Singapore’s highly pragmatic, foreign-capital-friendly economic model, and he tells Walters the city-state is “our highest priority” in the region. Luxon then flies to Bangkok to meet with Thai prime minister Srettha Thavisin. Luxon will find “a kindred spirit” in Thavisin, a relatively new PM who has focused on economic development since his election, writes the Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan (paywalled). The last stop on Luxon’s itinerary is Manila, where he’ll hold meetings with President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr, commonly referred to as Bongbong. The son of the infamously kleptocratic Marcos Sr, Bongbong has an MBA from the Wharton School and a strong inclination for business, says O’Sullivan. Luxon is scheduled to return home on Saturday – Air Force 757 depending, of course.

Luxon eager to demonstrate commitment to Asia ties

The tour comes on the heels of Luxon’s attendance at the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne last month. Having been advised that the government’s engagement with SEA is not what it should be, Luxon took the opportunity to assure the gathered leaders that NZ is redoubling its efforts in the region. Now he’s following up those talks with in-person visits. David Capie, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, tells Walters that while the diplomatic and economic importance of SEA is incontrovertible, it’s still a big ask for a prime minister to take a week out of his domestic schedule for a foreign tour. “I hate to sound like a cheerleader. But I’m genuinely really, really impressed and pleased to see this visit going ahead as it is.”

A potentially huge export market

Accompanying Luxon will be a delegation of 24 business representatives led by Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell and Air NZ chair Therese Walsh. “What I want to do is expose those business leaders in New Zealand to the potential of that market,” Luxon tells RNZ. “These are markets that I know well, I’ve spent a lot of time in these countries, I know there’s lots of opportunity.” As a bloc, the Southeast Asian countries are the world’s 5th largest economy. The government wants to double the value of NZ’s exports in the next decade, and trade with the fast-growing economies of SEA could be key to achieving that goal. NZ has excellent trade access to the region via a number of trade pacts which have helped increase our exports there by 13% in the past year alone. Trade expert Charles Finny tells RNZ there is “enormous scope” to build on that success, particularly in the realm of international education. “Look at how much Australia is doing in that part of the world. What we do is paling into insignificance.”

Where does Winston Peters find the energy?

Sticking with foreign affairs, Winston Peters role as foreign minister is the subject, at least in part, of two NZ Herald pieces published over the weekend. Among the people profiled by Audrey Young in her comprehensive round-up of Peters’ key advisers (paywalled) is Jon Johannson, the former political scientist who is now Peters’ special foreign affairs adviser. He was previously chief of staff when Peters was last in government. Also on Peters’ team is Michael Appleton, the former ambassador to Sri Lanka who is widely known among the cricketing fraternity as “New Zealand’s walking Wisden’s”. Elsewhere, Heather du Plessis-Allan delivers an encomium on Peters’ performance as foreign minister – all the more impressive, she writes, considering he just turned 79. “I don’t know why I’m surprised he’s this good at the job,” she writes. “But there’s no arguing that, when it comes to raising the energy, the county’s current oldest MP is doing it.”

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