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PM uses 'Indo-Pacific' in foreign policy speech, pushes for global effort on Covid

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Jul 2021, 7:19PM

PM uses 'Indo-Pacific' in foreign policy speech, pushes for global effort on Covid

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Jul 2021, 7:19PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has used a major foreign policy speech to emphasise the need for countries not to hog vaccines but to ensure all countries are vaccinated to reduce the risk of new variants emerging.

In a keynote speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Ardern said a key part of foreign policy was the challenge of Covid-19.

Many countries are pinning a post-Covid future on vaccinations, and Ardern said that meant those countries should be doing what they could to get the people of other countries vaccinated.

"A singular focus on vaccinating our own populations with little regard to others is a recipe for variants, and for possibly undermining the very vaccines we are working so hard to provide."

"The forms of cooperation needed to overcome Covid-19 require countries to let go of narrow nationalistic approaches. A full economic recovery can only come after other countries vaccinate their populations and suppress the virus' transmission."

Her comments come as reports emerge of leaders, including Ardern, directly lobbying Pfizer boss Dr Albert Bourla for swifter or larger deliveries of vaccines.

Ardern said New Zealand had put $17 million of funding into Covax, which distributes vaccines to lesser well-developed countries, but a stronger global effort was needed.

She would also back the recommendation for a "pandemic Treaty" which was set out by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, co-chaired by Helen Clark.

That would improve the ability to detect new health risks early, and respond to them, and strengthen the World Health Organisation.

Ardern foreshadowed the upcoming irregular meeting of the leaders of the Apec countries – including US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin – on Saturday morning.

Ardern will chair that virtual meeting, the first time Apec leaders have held a preliminary meeting before the usual Apec leaders summit in November. Ardern said no major announcements were expected from Saturday's early morning meeting, but the goal was to try to coordinate the economic and health response to Covid-19.

"This will be a unique opportunity to bring Apec leaders together to discuss how to get the region through the health crisis and accelerate economic recovery in a way that lays the foundations for a better future.

"That better future, must surely include better levels of preparedness for the risks we all face. That's a challenge that extends beyond just Apec.

"It is clear our global community was not adequately prepared for Covid-19. It is also clear that Covid-19 will not be the last global health risk that we face."

Ardern said New Zealand had given $17 million to the Covax fund for vaccinations in the wider Indo-Pacific region, and other countries had also donated as well as contributing to vaccine endeavours in other ways. But was more needed.

In a wide-ranging speech, Ardern pegged New Zealand alongside countries such as the United States in focusing on the wider "Indo-Pacific" region in foreign policy. In recent years, the United States has boosted its focus on the Indo-Pacific, in particular citing concern about the increasing influence of China in the region.

Ardern referred to that, albeit more obliquely, saying New Zealand was most closely connected to the narrower Pacific region: "But the Pacific itself is an increasingly contested region."

That meant a wider focus on the wider region – the Indo-Pacific – was needed.

Ardern said that region included China - "an engine of global growth and one of our most significant, but also one of our increasingly complex relationships".

Ardern said it was critical for all countries in that region to maintain the international rule of law: including navigation and flight path rights, and transparency "that states are honest about their foreign policy objectives and initiatives beyond their borders".

Ardern later returned to those themes – specifically mentioning "serious concerns" about the militarisation and building of artificial islands in the South China Sea, endangering the freedom of navigation and over-flight.

She also re-stated New Zealand's condemnation of the coup by Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw.

"New Zealand sees it as critical that the regime releases those people arbitrarily detained since the coup, including foreign nationals and political prisoners."‌ 

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