Jacinda Ardern flying into major tension at annual East Asia Summit

The Prime Minister is bracing to fly into the annual East Asia Summit, where major regional tension points will be discussed - including North Korea's nuclear arms and the dispute over the South China Sea.

The summit in Thailand has more riding on it than usual. APEC has been cancelled due to major protests in host nation Chile.

That means Ardern will be beefing up her summit meetings - hoping to catch leaders she was expecting to see at APEC.

One leader she won't see is US President Donald Trump, who's snubbing the summit.

Speaking to Newshub before she headed off to Bangkok, Ardern said she's not too worried he won't be in Thailand.

"Those discussions will continue regardless," she says.

The discussions include a plethora of conflicts for the leaders of Asia to grapple with, especially the dispute over territory in the South China Sea.

China is claiming rights to the shipping passage, but the international court at the Hague has rejected its claims.

"It's in everyone's best interest to make sure we maintain ultimately just the laws of the sea," Ardern says.

Meanwhile, on the Korean peninsula, tensions are rising. On Thursday, two suspected North Korean missiles were fired into the sea of Japan. A resolution could be years away.

"It's taken a large amount of time to get to where we are now," Ardern says. "I think it's about continuing to maintain an expectation we do see some long-time changes made."

Other issues include human rights abuses such as the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and China's Uighur detention camps.

Ardern says she is "really comfortable" with the role New Zealand is playing in solving these issues.

"Human rights issues are things that we consistently raise and I have consistently raised at a leader level," she says.

While Ardern's overseas, Winston Peters will take over as Acting Prime Minister.

However, he'll be in court not Cabinet, taking legal action against the government's most senior public servant over the leak of his superannuation overpayment.