Opinion: Pacific Mission done, now Pacific Action must start

OPINION: Jacinda Ardern's so-called Pacific Mission has been the diplomatic version of a pub crawl, but instead of bar-hopping, she's been island-hopping. 

Ardern has called in for a chat, a drink and a photo in one Pacific country, and moved on quickly to the next one for another chat, another drink and another photo. 

It's an exhausting routine for all involved, and the gruelling schedule leaves everyone feeling hungover every morning. 

This has been Ardern's inaugural Pacific Island tour as Prime Minister, and she's done a solid job meeting the leaders of Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands. 

Jacinda Ardern with Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegao.
Jacinda Ardern with Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegao. Photo credit: Newshub.

She's met them face to face, broken the ice and started the important dialogue needed with these important Pacific sibling nations. 

Her performance on a new stage, with a new leader, in a new country every day has been outstanding. She's already a polished Prime Minister after just over 4 months in the job. 

Outside of the official engagements, Ardern has the incredible ability to captivate audiences by firstly disarming them with charm and then killing them with kindness. 

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters.
Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters. Photo credit: Newshub.

This is most visible at schools where she gets on the same level as the kids, makes them laugh and listen and leaves everyone an Ardern-convert. 

All over the Pacific is the trail of the 'Ardern-effect', but the new Government must not rest on its laurels; the job has barely started. 

Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters have planted the seeds of change and hope, and now they must nurture and care for that seed to deliver what they promised. 

Winston Peters showered with gifts.
Winston Peters showered with gifts. Photo credit: Newshub.

There's been a lot of talk about a 'Pacific reset', which means the Government wants to change the relationship from an aid donor-aid receiver model, to one of a proper bilateral partnership. 

It means the Government will no longer treat the Pacific nations like third world countries, but instead like grown-up nations with grown-up diplomatic relations. 

It also means the Pacific nations will no longer treat New Zealand like an open wallet or rich uncle who is needed to top up the operational balance. 

This 'reset' won't be easy. There are many obstacles. It will take a long time. 

Damage from Cyclone Gita.
Damage from Cyclone Gita. Photo credit: Newshub.

But the idea behind the reset is a good one; Pacific economies transforming into self-sufficiency where players like China are not a last resort for funding and cheap loans. 

It will require New Zealand being there to provide a hand up for many years to come, but it's better than the constant handouts that have always defined the relationship.

Ardern's charm offensive and disarming diplomacy has worked well this time around, but it will only last for so long without action. 

The rhetoric must now start the transfer into action, because photo ops on beautiful Pacific Islands won't solve the problems. 

Lloyd Burr is a Newshub political reporter.

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