Ardern brings charm offensive to Cook Islands

Author
NZ Newswire,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Thursday, 8 March 2018, 2:15PM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with her partner Clarke Gayford, is welcomed at House of Ariki. (Photo / Michael Craig)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with her partner Clarke Gayford, is welcomed at House of Ariki. (Photo / Michael Craig)

While Jacinda Ardern is doing her best to charm the Pacific, its residents are charming her right back.

The prime minister and a diplomatic delegation have arrived in Rarotonga - having already stopped by Samoa, Tonga and Niue earlier in the week.

Dressed in all white, Ms Ardern on Thursday (NZT) received a vibrant, musical welcome from the House of Ariki (chiefs) at Atupare Marae.

Asking not be carried in - as is traditional - the prime minister and her contingent were welcomed on as children of the Cook Islands. The heavens briefly opened up as the prime minister sat on a stone throne in front of chiefs from around the islands following a kiriti marotai - a ritual for weary travellers.

Locals assured reporters the downpour was a blessing.

"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was moved," Reverend Soatini said during the prayer that followed.

"I think that the Cook Islands has moved, because you have arrived, prime minister."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed to the Cook Islands. Photo / Michael Craig

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed to the Cook Islands. Photo / Michael Craig

Ardern, who is six months pregnant, in turn spoke of the links - in culture and language - that New Zealand and Cook Islands shared beyond their governance arrangements.

"As I was leaving ... one of the ariki said to me: don't forget your baby now is Cook Island ... I would have to say that would be a very lucky baby," she told the crowd.

"This is my first visit here ... It will not be my last visit."

Ardern will shortly meeting with her Cook Island counterpart, Henry Puna, with an announcement expected.

At meetings with leaders in Samoa, Tonga and Niue earlier in the week, the government revealed boosts for various forms of aid and development.

Days before New Zealand's annual Pacific Mission delegation set off for the region, Foreign Minister Winston Peters in a speech spoke of "strategic anxiety" about countries with deeper pockets taking hold in the region - and New Zealand's need to "reset" its policies to stay relevant.

- NZN

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