New Zealand PM meets Biden to discuss US Indo-Pacific strategy

This is the first face-to-face talk between the leaders

By Reuters

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US President Joe Biden meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP
US President Joe Biden meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP

Published: Tue 31 May 2022, 8:51 PM

Last updated: Tue 31 May 2022, 9:04 PM

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met US President Joe Biden on Tuesday at the White House, where their first face-to-face talks.

The meeting took on greater importance as New Zealand in recent weeks has raised concerns about China’s presence in the region.

Joining Ardern in the Oval Office, Biden said Washington has no desire to dictate to the region but to partner with them. “We have more work to do in those Pacific Islands,” he said.

New Zealand joined Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), an economic bloc that excludes China and was designed to counter that country, during Biden’s first trip to Asia as president last week.

Speaking to reporters at the start of the White House meeting, Ardern said the pact “presents a significant opportunity to build economic resilience in our region.”

But New Zealand and several other countries in the region think the agreement does not go far enough, asking Biden to join trade pacts that could unlock US consumer markets. Biden has been reluctant to do so because of domestic fears that such deals could cost jobs.

At the White House, Ardern referenced the multicountry trans-Pacific trade deal that Washington withdrew from in 2017 under then-President Donald Trump, but which New Zealand has stuck with and China hopes to join.

The two leaders were also expected to discuss their strategy for thwarting Russia’s attack of Ukraine as well as gun control in the aftermath of several US mass shootings, including one in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 children and teachers dead.

Ardern said she expected to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell.

“It’s not about new initiatives,” she told reporters at a briefing before heading to the White House. “It is actually about that relationship.”

Ardern has been in the United States as part of a trade delegation promoting business with New Zealand.

The two countries are close friends but the meeting with Biden had been uncertain after Ardern tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, given strict White House pandemic protocols.

Three members of Ardern’s delegation have now also tested positive for Covid.

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