TOKYO — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern underscored her country’s “close and resilient relationship” with Japan in Tokyo on April 22 as part of her first international trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and emphasized that New Zealand is now “open for business.”
“My decision to come to Tokyo reflects the priority that New Zealand places on Japan as we reconnect with the world and as we work to accelerate our economic rebuild,” she said at a business address in the capital. “We are open for business and ready to welcome tourists, students and businesspeople.”
Following its rigid zero-COVID approach, New Zealand is taking steps to reopen its border, and from May 2 travelers from visa-waiver countries and those with valid visitor visas will be able to come to New Zealand without self-isolating on arrival.
“While we all know that when it comes to COVID we’re not out of the woods yet, New Zealand has begun to transition from response to rebuild,” Ardern said.
In the business sector, Ardern listed food and beverages, renewable energy, and electric-vehicle technology as three key growth areas.
New Zealand’s food and beverage exports have continued to grow over the pandemic, Ardern said, giving meat and kiwifruit as examples. She said this “is testament to New Zealand’s reputation as a producer of healthy, nutritious, natural and sustainable food products at a time when Japanese consumers are more and more focused on healthy living.”
In the renewable energy field, New Zealand companies GNS Science and Geo40 on April 21 announced a geothermal coalition and have taken a step to bring New Zealand geothermal expertise to Japan with the opening of a joint office in Tokyo.
Ardern said that looking ahead, she anticipated that Japan would be a critical partner for the deployment of electric vehicles in New Zealand, pointing out, “We have a target of bringing in 1 million electric vehicles by 2035.”
The New Zealand prime minister’s visit to Japan comes as the two countries mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. Ardern pointed out that millions of Japanese people and New Zealanders have visited, studied in, and worked in each other’s countries, and added that the countries’ trade relationship is worth around 8 billion New Zealand dollars (about 681.1 billion yen) annually, making Japan New Zealand’s fourth largest trading partner.
Her address was hosted by the New Zealand Embassy in Japan, and supported by the Japan New Zealand Business Council, Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry. When asked about the issue of women’s representation in the workforce, she reflected on her own position.
“So often the places that I look to — and when I say places I mean sectors of work where traditionally we have underrepresentation of women — they tend to be areas like politics. I think it’s incumbent on those of us who are in leadership positions to recognize what it is that led us to be in those roles,” she said. “I’m in this role because at some point someone asked me directly to take up an opportunity. Now I’d like my child to one day grow up in a world where she has enough confidence in herself that she doesn’t need to be asked — that is my goal. But right now, we need to be frank that we still need to ask. We need to ask our women to take up roles and opportunities and be in the places that they deserve and have a right to be in, and that falls on all of us.”
Ardern’s address followed a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on April 21, during which the two leaders criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They also agreed to begin negotiations on a classified information-sharing agreement to shore up security and defense cooperation between the two countries.
“Such meetings are more important than ever at a time of global crisis. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has worsened the geostrategic uncertainty, and the threats to the rule-based order that Japan and New Zealand depend on,” Ardern said.
In terms of relations between Japan and New Zealand, she emphasized the importance of connections between people.
The “Japan-New Zealand relationship is only as strong as the friendships and connections between our people. We have a word in New Zealand that describes this kind of close connection: whanaungatanga, or kinship. This is a relationship built through shared experiences, which provides people with a sense of belonging,” she said, adding that New Zealand is looking forward to a prosperous, sustainable future with Japan.
“I hope our next 70 years will be even more successful than the last,” she said.
(By Aaron Baldwin, The Mainichi Staff Writer)