Nanaia Mahuta to travel to Europe for Indo-Pacific talks, meet WHO chief, UN Human Rights commissioner

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister is travelling to Europe for a number of high-level meetings, including in Paris and London, where she plans to discuss issues in the Indo-Pacific region and the unfolding crisis on the Ukrainian border.

Among the global figures she will meet with are Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Nanaia Mahuta will fly out this weekend for what she calls an "important step in reconnecting New Zealand to the world". She says it will provide "an opportunity to present our values and interests to key partners as we move forward in a post-COVID world".

While in Paris, the minister will participate in the Ministerial Forum for Co-operation in the Indo-Pacific. This is co-hosted by the European Union as well as France, which is the current President of the Council of the European Union. 

According to Politico, the summit will allow countries to discuss security, defence and digital issues in the region in the context of the EU's 'Global Gateway' programme. Global Gateway intends to fund infrastructure in developing countries and is seen as a rival to China's Belt and Road Initiative. 

The foreign ministers of all 27 EU member states will be present as well as others from a number of countries in the Indo-Pacific region. However, the United States and China, two of the region's biggest players, have not been invited. Australia, which clashed with France last year after Scott Morrison halted the purchase of submarines from France in favour of an AUKUS deal for nuclear subs, will attend. 

Mahuta will co-chair one of three ministerial roundtable discussions at the forum, focused on climate, biodiversity, health and oceans. 

"The Indo-Pacific Forum in Paris will be an important opportunity to engage on key issues facing our region and to ensure that Aotearoa New Zealand’s voice and perspectives on issues affecting us and our Pacific partners are well registered," she says.

"As well as discussing Indo-Pacific issues, this is an opportunity to meet with a number of ministerial counterparts attending the Forum and discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. These include Russia-Ukraine tensions and key areas of cooperation, including our COVID recovery strategies and climate change."

Mahuta will meet a number of global figures.
Mahuta will meet a number of global figures. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Following the forum, Mahuta will travel to London for a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. 

"The United Kingdom and Aotearoa New Zealand enjoy a strong relationship built on warm people-to-people connections, deepening economic and geo-political links and, of course, a unique shared history based on mutual respect as embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi," Mahuta says.

"My meeting with Secretary Truss will provide a good opportunity for us to discuss opportunities to deepen ties with one of our closest partners."

The announcement comes as it was revealed on Thursday that current British High Commissioner Laura Clarke will be leaving her posting in August. Iona Thomas, who is currently stationed in Islamabad as a political counsellor, will succeed her. 

"I can't wait to discover the beautiful country of Aotearoa New Zealand and experience its rich, diverse culture," Thomas said on Thursday. 

"I am looking forward to working closely together on key global issues such as climate change, as well as increasing trade between the UK and New Zealand."

British High Commissioner Laura Clarke is leaving the role in August.
British High Commissioner Laura Clarke is leaving the role in August. Photo credit: Newshub.

Mahuta will travel from the UK to Geneva, Switzerland, for a meeting with a number of leaders from the United Nations and multilateral organisations, including Ghebreyesus, Bachelet and Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Ghebreyesus has become a well-known figure internationally for leading the WHO during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the initial stages of the pandemic, he frequently praised New Zealand's response.

Bachelet, the former President of Chile, has been seeking a visit to China's Xinjiang region in recent years to look into accusations of human rights abuses against the Uighur population there. New Zealand has strongly advocated for the UN to be granted unfettered access. It was reported earlier this month that Bachelet may be granted a visit sometime in the first half of this year.  

Mahuta will also represent New Zealand at the High-level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council. This will be the first time a New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister has spoken at the council since its creation in 2006. 

"I look forward to engaging at the Human Rights Council and, in particular, delivering Aotearoa New Zealand’s statement setting out our country’s human rights priorities on the opening day of the Council session," Mahuta says.

She will be out of the country until March 2, when she will return for a period in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).

It was announced earlier this week that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will travel to the United States in May for a trade trip. She will also travel to Asia, Europe and Australia this year.