Q & A with Jacinda Ardern: We have a role in taking a lead
Jacinda Ardern is back home on Thursday after her first international summits as Prime Minister. During the flight home, political editor Audrey Young asked her to reflect on her week away at Apec in Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in Manila.
Which leaders have got your cellphone number?
I didn't exchange cellphone numbers with anyone to be honest. I did think about the number of conversations I had about Justin Trudeau [Canadian Prime Minister] I thought it would be useful to stay in touch but we have each other's Skype and I already have Malcolm's [Turnbull, Australian PM].
You spent a long time talking president Moon of South Korea at one dinner. What sort of impression does he have of NZ?He spoke about the time he had spent there in a private capacity, the beauty of the Milford Track, his wife spoke of the quality of ou r wine. He talked about our environment being our greatest asset and, alongside our people, I would have to agree. He was a very thoughtful person and very knowledgeable about New Zealand.
Did you get quality time with anyone else?
Probably the longest conversations were with Malcolm Turnbull. I spent quite a bit of time with Justin Trudeau and Michelle Bachelet [Chile president] but actually managed to talk to everyone.
Did you meet Dmitiri Medvedev [Prime Minister of Russia] at the East Asia Summit?
Yes but only briefly.
Did he ask after John Key?
He sent John Key a birthday present after summit.
Was there a highlight of the EAS in Manila for you?
We had some good bilaterals and probably the bilateral with Prime Minister Modi of India and Donald Tusk of the European Council were fantast ic. I found at the East Asia Summit the bilaterals were the most useful part of the time we had.
Did you have a highlight or Apec in Danang?
Probably the time I spent with Michelle Bachelet. She's leaving so it was the last opportunity really. Her election was only nine days away so talking with her and talking about her experiences. It's obvious when you sit around the table there's only three women there. I spent some time also with Carrie Lam [Hong Kong chief executive] and we talked about the baton that was being passed on by Michelle. She had done a lot of work to make sure certain issues were on the table in Apec.
So TPP wasn't a highlight in Danang?
There is no closure there yet. We certainly made progress and I was pleased about that.
Who would have thought trade could be so exciting?
Oh I did learn a lot about the tricks and what was common and what was not and the fac t that there is a lot of manoeuvring close to the end. So I certainly saw that in play.
Do you think you exaggerated your opposition to TPP when you were in Opposition?
No. We were certainly vehement about it, for good reason, particularly around the foreign buyer ban because that was important to us. But as soon as we found a resolution to that, that then gave us space to deal with those final remaining issues and to really focus on them and I think we did a good job of it.
You had six body guards in Manila. How did that make you feel?
Uncomfortable, because it was too much. I'm still getting used to having the number I have in New Zealand. I just don't think we are a country of excess so it felt like a lot. They were all wonderful but I certainly didn't feel like I needed my chips tasted.
You had two women?
Yes, they did that on purpose and I appreciated that. They were all fantas tic though. They wouldn't let me get to a stairwell without pointing out every single individual step in case I tripped. I turned to them on the last day and said to them 'how have I climbed stairs without you in my life for the last 37 years?'
Did you have any security scares?
One - as I was departing the business breakfast in the Philippines, three men started to perform the haka and as they started I felt the security person's arm thrown around me and her yell something in Filipino. I had to say 'no, no no, please, it's absolutely fine, it's absolutely fine.' She took a bit of convincing.
Justin Trudeau [at the start of the bilateral] said he wanted to talk about feminist foreign policy? Did you and what is it?
He did talk about that. It was less about feminism and foreign policy and more about feminism generally.
Was he giving you lessons?
That wouldn't be generous interpretation. I then responded by giving my version. He was conveying that he was a like-minded person and we had a lot of really good conversations.
Why are you so hell-bent on making Manus Island a New Zealand problem?
I think as Australia has pointed out, it is a regional issue and I saw it as an opportunity for New Zealand to play a role and actually to support Australia. And also to respond to our international responsibility. We've committed to 1500 refugees and here were a group on our doorstep. The offer the last Government made, made sense and it was just a matter of reiterating that to Australia.
How did Team Jacinda and Winston go in your first foreign summit outing?
Fantastic. Fantastic . I got to see first hand the number of relationships that he already had as his time as foreign minister from 2005 to 2008 and also the number of bilaterals and how successful they all were. I have a huge amount of respect for the reputation that he has already built on the international stage. It is beneficial to New Zealand.
What was your abiding impression of Donald Trump in the few conversations you had with him?
He is consistent. He is the same person that you see behind the scenes as he is in the public or through the media.
Is that a compliment?
I think being consistent - there is something in that.
Do you have a vision for New Zealand's place in the world?
Yes I do. I think we have always had a reputation for being advocates on issues. I don't think we have ever let our size get in the way of our sense of responsibility. We showed that with nuclear issues and that continues to b e relevant today. Nuclear non-proliferation on the Korean Peninsula is as relevant today as it was when we were battling on a different front in the 1980s. But we have got another frontier in the form of climate change that you see is just starting to emerge in international forums, is just starting to reach people's agendas and I think we have a role to play in encouraging that and taking a lead.
How did [Philippines] President Duterte react when you raised extra-judicial killings - or how did you raise it?
I did do it in a very diplomatic way. I talked about our approach to drugs. I talked about the importance of human rights to New Zealand. He was very vehement about his views and the impact of drugs in the Philippines so he made it very very clear the rationale as to why he had engaged in the way that he had. Her certainly heard that New Zealand takes a different approach on these issues.
You didn't offend him?
No. There are ways to have these conversations. But no, I don't believe I offended him.
Any other leaders make an impression on you?
I had good conversations with a range of people but Modi [India] was really engaged, interested in New Zealand, knew a lot about our relationship. I put another plug in for a visit [by him] and I think maybe we got that a little further on. We haven't had a visit by a Prime Minister from India since the 80s. It would be wonderful to try to encourage him to join us.
Is there anything you want to add?
Of course there's politicians who sit at the forefront of the meetings and the bilaterals but sitting behind us is a team of [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade] people who do a huge amount of work all year round on our relationships be they economic, be they political and they do an excellent job. A reputation for a country isn't built off one meeting and I am incredibly heart ened by the reputation that has been created by the people who work on our behalf. I was proud.