In an exclusive interview with CINews at the Crown Beach resort yesterday, Ardern discussed with reporter Conor Leathley a variety of topics, from a prospective bid for the Cook Islands to join the United Nations, to increasing New Zealand’s contribution to the Pacific, and climate change in the region.
Ardern confirmed Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna’s statement last year that the UN bid had not come up when the two met last December. She added the topic had also not been raised during her current visit, which ended yesterday.
However, she said the possible graduation of the Cook Islands to developed status was a much more pressing issue and she considered it unlikely the UN would consider a bid that retained the status quo regarding New Zealand citizenship.
“That really then becomes a matter for the Cook Islands in the way that they would want to pursue that. Certainly the sense that I get is that people really value that (New Zealand citizenship),” Ardern said.
“It’s not something that I get a sense that there’s a push for. What has been raised by people I’ve met, not always formally, is how much they value the nature and status of our relationship.
“And it would be sad, I think, to change the nature of the relationship.”
She also spoke strongly about the need to shift current thinking on the relationship between the two countries.
At meetings attended by Puna and finance minister Mark Brown in Wellington in December, Ardern said it had been clear that the Cook Islands prime minister and New Zealand deputy prime minister Winston Peters had a personal history, and that she hoped to foster a similar relationship.
She added that one of the aims of the “Pacific Reset” mission was to knock down the perception that New Zealand had the higher status in its relationships with Pacific countries.
“Yes, our economy is at a different stage to a lot of others, and yes we are in the fortunate position to be able to support our Pacific neighbours with specific needs and projects.
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re there as a replacement voice, although it does mean we have a duty of care to amplify those voices.”
She said the goal of the New Zealand government was not to do anything on behalf of Pacific nations, but rather to walk alongside Pacific them.
Although New Zealand ranked second in the region in terms of donor money, she wondered if the level of international interest in the Pacific meant New Zealand was doing enough.
“Because our values are so similar it makes sense for us to be here and working together, and that’s one of the reasons we want to step up our role.”
New Zealand’s contribution equates to one-tenth of the total contributed by countries including Australia, the United States, China and Japan.
Ardern said there was not a specific concern about the Chinese presence, as it was up to each Pacific country who they had dealings with.
However, one major concern that she consistently champions is climate change.
Although the Pacific has an overall small impact on global emissions, the region is one of the hardest-hit by their effects.
Ardern said one thing that had struck her about her current trip, which has seen her travel to Cyclone Gita-affected countries Tonga and Samoa, as well as realm country Niue, is that none of their leaders had talked about whether climate change was real.
“It’s such a given because they are already relocating villages, or sandbagging, or committing to a goal around renewable energy, because they see the reality.
“And given we have platforms that not everyone else does, I do feel that responsibility every time I speak (about climate change), to think about the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Tonga…everyone that is affected.”