What Donald Trump's Asia-Pacific 'dream' means for NZ

  • 12/11/2017

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is reassuring New Zealanders about rising tensions between the United States and China.

It follows US President Donald Trump unveiling a new aggressive approach to the Asia-Pacific region.

The APEC leaders are on what is officially called the "leader's retreat". Yet there is of course no "retreating" from the issues facing the world and the Asia-Pacific region.

It is obviously all smiles at the official photos. But nothing can hide the tension and power plays - certainly not the President of the United States.

Mr Trump wants the US to be the most powerful in the region. But he is in a battle to do that with China and its president, Xi Jinping.

Mr Trump outlined his vision for control, calling it "the Indo-Pacific dream". Mr Trump's "dream" involves bringing India into an alliance that stretches from the United States across the Pacific into Asia and up into India, boxing China out.

"Let us choose a free and open Indo-Pacific," says Mr Trump.

This is a significant shift in foreign policy. Under Mr Trump, the United States is really taking on China. The tension will affect New Zealand. It will be harder than ever not to take sides.

But Ms Ardern says there is one thing keeping the region together - a common enemy.

"To have Japan, the United States and China all sitting around the table, particularly as we face the challenges with North Korea, that in itself is incredibly important."

The Prime Minister admits the threat from North Korea is worse than ever.

"Bilaterals, the undercurrent of discussion - absolutely North Korea has been a strong thing."

The American-Chinese tension is the big overarching force driving the quest to keep the TPP trade deal alive. It is almost the only way for the smaller countries to stand up to the United States and China.

"I think New Zealanders should feel assured at least that we have these international forums where leaders are engaging, where they're taking these issues incredibly seriously, where they're using the opportunity for dialogue," says Ms Ardern.

The power balance in Asia and the Pacific can be summed up like this - a louder and more unpredictable US versus a strong yet subtle China. New Zealand and the other countries are trying to make their way, waiting and wondering what happens if the two big powers clash.