WASHINGTON, DC (CU)_New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived in the United States yesterday for her first ever White House visit. During her visit, the Kiwi leader met with US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and several other senior government officials. Her trip comes at a time when economic and security relations in the Indo-Pacific is under the microscope as China has launched efforts over the recent months to strengthen its influence in region.
PM Ardern had already spoken with President Biden via phone or video conferencing since he assumed office in January 2021. However, she said “there’s nothing quite like meeting face to face” with the American leader. “Now we have the opportunity to do it in his space, at the White House,” PM Ardern said ahead of her visit. “That very first call where we immediately discussed his connection to the region through his family, his visit to New Zealand, already it was at a level we were building connections.”
The pair met in the Oval Office, for a meeting which was also attended by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the President’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, Assistant to the President on National Security Jake Sullivan and Assistant to the President on Homeland Security Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, while US Ambassador to New Zealand, Tom Udall, was present as well.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, President Biden said it was “good to see a not-so-old and a good friend”. “We are really delighted to have you here,” he added. According to PM Ardern, the meeting was a reflection of the close ties between the two countries: “warm, friendly, shared values and shared challenges”. “I am greatly heartened by the nature of the discussion we had today,” the Kiwi leader said.
Diplomatic relations in the Indo-Pacific were a major subject of discussion between the two leaders, with President Biden expressing his assurance that when it came to his country’s involvement in the region, Washington only wants to work alongside other countries. “I want to emphasise the last point you made – working together. We are not coming to dictate or lay down the law. We have more work to do in those Pacific Islands,” he said.
During the meeting, the New Zealand Prime Minister expressed her condolences for the recent shootings in Texas and Buffalo. “We are in an incredibly difficult international environment, but also domestically it is extraordinarily challenging as well. It’s been devastating to see the impact on those communities,” she said. For his part, President Biden commended PM Ardern’s leadership on a range of matters, including climate change and gun violence. “You understand that your leadership has taken on a critical role in this global stage — and it really has — galvanizing action on climate change; the global effort to curb violence, extremism, and online, like happened in Christchurch,” he said. “And — you know, we want to be — I want to work with you on that effort. And I want to talk to you about what those conversations were like, if you’re willing,” the American leader added, to which PM Ardern responded saying: “Our experience, of course, in this regard, is our own. But if there’s anything that we can share that would be of any value, we are here to share it.”