On 12 April 2021, the Southeast Asia Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence (SEA CAPE) hosted an event “Meet the ASEAN Ambassadors”.

The event saw all 6 Wellington-based ASEAN Ambassadors come together to share their perspectives and knowledge around ASEAN’s economic responses to; the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which New Zealand is a part of, and the opportunities for New Zealand-ASEAN relations around APEC 2021 in New Zealand.

The six Ambassadors are:

  • His Excellency Ta Van Thong (Ambassador of Vietnam) and Chair of the ASEAN Committee in Wellington
  • Her Excellency Nur Izzah Wong Mee Choo (High Commissioner of Malaysia)
  • His Excellency Tantowi Yahya (Ambassador of Indonesia)
  • His Excellency Sudesh Maniar (High Commissioner of Singapore)
  • His Excellency Jesus Domingo (Ambassador of the Philippines)
  • His Excellency Pornpop Uampidhaya (Ambassador of Thailand)
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The event was attended by more than 80 people at Rutherford House, with more than 120 others joining a live zoom webcast.

Proceedings began with Ambassador Ta introducing the ASEAN Committee in Wellington as Chair of the Committee.

An insightful keynote speech was then delivered by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Alison Mann, Manager of Asia Regional Division and Senior Official to the East Asia Summit, ASEAN and ASEAN Regional Forum.

We were reminded of a few areas in which New Zealand and ASEAN are already working closely. For example, while New Zealand and ASEAN became dialogue partners in 1975, 45 years ago and counting, the bilateral ties between New Zealand and some individual ASEAN economies go back 75 years.

ASEAN is an important element of New Zealand foreign relations due to shared views and positions on supporting the international rule-based system, the protection of small size economies, and collective action.

ASEAN is New Zealand’s 4th largest trading partner and the region has 3 of the most important travel hubs for New Zealand.

The Q&A session with the six Ambassadors followed with each providing perspectives, not from their own country, but from a collective ASEAN view.

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The topics covered include COVID-19 ASEAN response, ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), RCEP, APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040, APEC’s focus on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), micro firms and SMEs, youth and people to people linkages (including ASEAN- New Zealand Youth Conference) as well as travel and tourism.

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The Q&A session reflected the various natures in which New Zealand engages with ASEAN and it is unsurprising that we can expect to see more even more engagement in coming years.

The ASEAN-New Zealand Strategic Partnership (2021-2025) will see more connectivity, established and strengthened through the pillars of political-security cooperation, economic cooperation, socio-cultural cooperation, and cross-pillar cooperation.

The pressures from US-China competition should also see New Zealand picking up some lessons from ASEAN experiences.

ASEAN Leaders have agreed to further discuss an initiative that reinforces the ASEAN-centered regional architecture, namely, ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. There is certainly a role that New Zealand can play in this initiative as well.

The formal proceedings concluded with the ASEAN Ambassadors expressing their desire to work more closely with New Zealanders and New Zealand agencies, including MFAT and SEA CAPE on common goals and shared interests.

Overall, it was a great evening enjoyed by everyone, as explicitly expressed by the Ambassadors and the audience.

The event allowed SEA CAPE to facilitate New Zealanders’ access to the Ambassadors, as well as up-to-date information of what ASEAN offers and the implications for New Zealand.

 

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Story by: SEA CAPE Director Professor Siah Hwee Ang

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