A mid-evening fruit-picking expedition has ended the Prime Minister’s first day in Vietnam after a helter-skelter programme of top-level meetings and pomp and ceremony.
Jacinda Ardern was attending a dinner for herself and a New Zealand trade mission hosted by the Vietnamese government.
Towards the end of the evening Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh escorted Ardern through the gardens of the venue where they picked pomelo, a relative of grapefruit, which will soon be exported to New Zealand.
The fruit-picking capped the first day in Vietnam crowded with pomp and ceremony, much hand-shaking, flag-waving children, military bands and guards of honour – and much walking.
Ardern is in the capital, Hanoi, to rejuvenate the relationship between the two countries, which was disrupted by the pandemic.
Vietnam laid on a lavish welcome, starting with a motorcade from the airport that sped to the central city in 20 minutes – for a journey known to take more than an hour.
After the ceremony, it was a series of meetings with Vietnam’s major political leaders, something she said was “relatively unique.”
Ardern said it seemed clear to her also that the outcome of each meeting was passed on to the next as the themes were picked up, something more easily achieved in Vietnam’s communist administration.
“Being able to highlight areas where we may not have had as much access for particular products, straight off the bat that was picked up by those I was meeting with, and you could hear that theme then coming through those future meetings.”
Ardern’s real purpose for the visit is to ease the way for a business delegation to make progress in expanding trade links.
She has described it as something of a two-pronged attack with her and officials opening the doors of officialdom at senior levels, through which New Zealand enterprises can sell their wares.
To emphasise the trade relationship the two countries have signed agreements for improved cooperation in air services, and an increase in the number of working holiday visas available to Vietnamese.
However, big global politics have loomed over the visit as well, with discussions on stability and security in the region.
Chinh said after his meeting with Ardern that Vietnam and New Zealand wanted “security of navigation, overflight in the East Sea, including settling of disputes through peaceful means”.
Vietnam has been reluctant to join the global condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Ardern said like New Zealand it held to the upholding of international law.
“They share the same view that when you see a threat to international law, or an undermining of the UN Charter, that’s a threat to peace and stability.”
And similarly they wanted stability in the region, especially given their history that had had so much conflict.
“You can see why their focus would be on avoiding conflict in our region again, because they’ve experienced it first hand.”
Ardern added that the Biden-Xi Jinping meeting in Indonesia showed a willingness of the two sides to manage their differences.
“That face-to-face connection can’t be underestimated, the importance of it and its ability to reduce the risk of any miscalculation in what is a tense environment.”
A formal “bilateral” meeting between Ardern and Xi Jinping is a possibility at the APEC summit at the end of the week, although she said preferred for all details to be worked out before making any announcement.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz