Standing in the future: Ian McGibbon reports on the NZIIA's recent national conference.

AuthorMcGibbon, Ian

On 14 July the NZIIA staged its national conference 'Standing in the Future: New Zealand and the Indo-Pacific Region'. Its 2020 conference had, of course, been cancelled because of Covid-19.

Te Papa in Wellington provided an excellent venue for the conference, which attracted abut 370 participants. A team led by the NZIIA's executive director Melanie Thornton, in what was her swansong following her resignation, oversaw proceedings. Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence were the NZIIA's major partners in staging the event.

Apart from two addresses, the conference was organised in three sessions with the format comprising two panel discussions per session, leaving attendees to choose which option they preferred. These options were organised in two streams with one focusing on geopolitics and the other on economic issues.

The conference made full use of modern technology, both in overcoming restrictions imposed by the pandemic and in its staging. A number of overseas participants did so by Zoom. After each panellist had given a short statement on their topic, sessions took the form of a discussion led by a moderator who fed panellists questions from the audience. These questions were taken by text and the order was determined by likes--those present could see on a big screen which questions were trending. While efficient, this method lacked some of the spontaneity of the traditional method of taking questions directly from the audience.

The two addresses that began proceedings were by the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and Dr Kurt M. Campbell, the Biden administration's National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific. The latter spoke by Zoom from Washington. The texts of both addresses are to be found elsewhere in this issue.

Regional security

In the geopolitics stream, the first session considered 'Geopolitics and Regional Security', in particular where the power is being asserted in the Indo-Pacific region and how countries are responding to that power. Moderated by Professor Steven Ratuva, the director of the University of Canterbury's Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, the panellists were Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar (Indonesian Institute of Sciences), Associate Professor Nicholas Khoo (University of Otago), Ben Bland (director of the Southeast Asia Program at Sydney's Lowy Institute) and Professor Anne-Marie Brady from the University of Canterbury. Anwar and Bland participated by Zoom, the former hampered at first by a poor connection.

Apart from the impact of Covid-19, the problem of China permeated this session. Its importance for New Zealand's economic interests was emphasised, as well as the issues this raised for its foreign policy. In terms of the wider picture, Khoo suggested that China was over-reaching, and that this was creating a coalition against it, while Brady observed...

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