Prime Minister Christopher Luxon meets Indonesian Vice President Ma'ruf Amin in Wellington yesterday

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon gets his first big foreign affairs opportunity next week when he travels to Melbourne for the 50th Anniversary of Australia’s partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has invited the heads of all ten members for a special summit.

And he has invited Luxon as a special guest.

The event commemorates Australia becoming ASEAN’s dialogue partner in 1974; New Zealand followed in 1975.

During his welcome to Indonesia’s Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, who is in the capital for two days, Luxon confirmed yesterday that he would be going.

This will be his first meeting with leaders like Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Viet Nam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), all heavy hitters in the Asia-Pacific region.

He got a chance to practice his diplomatic skills for ASEAN yesterday with Amin.

Luxon told Amin he was looking forward to meeting Jokowi at the meeting.

Amin, however, talked about the Pacific region.

“My visit to New Zealand, this time, is part of our effort to improve bilateral relations with countries in the Pacific region,” he said.


In 2019, Indonesia launched a “Pacific Elevation” policy, which has seen it deepen relations with the Pacific Islands Forum.

Commentators suggest that part of the reason for that is to blunt Pacific criticism of its inclusion of West Papua within Indonesia.

Indonesia is an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead group of nations within the Forum because of the inclusion of West Papua within its boundaries.

Vanuatu is a key Spearhead member but has long been the most vocal in calls for independence for West Papua, which it regards as a Melanesian rather than Indonesian territory.

Amin headed the Indonesian side in talks about the issue with Vanuatu’s Deputy Prime Minister in Jakarta last year.

New Zealand has been largely silent on West Papua, and when Jokowi visited here in 2018, he said: “Allow me to applaud New Zealand’s support of Indonesia’s territorial integrity.” — a comment that suggested that then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had affirmed Indonesian sovereignty over the territory.

At the time, Ardern, like Luxon yesterday, emphasised the trading relationship with Indonesia.

 She said it represented the biggest economy and population in ASEAN.

In 2018, bilateral trade was about $1.4 billion, and the goal was to lift it to $4 billion by 2024.

That target has almost been met.

In a statement announcing Amin’s visit, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said annual two-way trade with Indonesia was worth almost $3.3 billion, and halal exports comprised nearly half of that.

Luxon began to talk about halal exports, but the media were evicted from his meeting with Amin at that point.

Amin’s trip to New Zealand was labelled “Halal Diplomacy” by Indonesia’s news agency Antara.

Last year he said Indonesia sought to become a country that set global halal certification standards.

“Indonesia not only wants to provide halal certification standards in the world but wants to become the world’s largest country in producing halal products,” he said in Shanghai.

Three organisations provide halal certification in New Zealand with links to Islamic communities here or in the Middle East.

There are other trade issues with Indonesia.

It is one of the South East Asian countries that have contributed to the region, erecting nearly $47 million in non-tariff barriers to New Zealand exports.

Onion exporters have complained about the reception they are currently getting in Indonesia.

But as the MFAT Deputy Secretary for Trade, Vangelis Vitalis, pointed out to the Select Committee on Monday, that is going to require diplomacy to solve.

And that will require a base that extends beyond trade.

Luxon said he saw Amin’s visit as a big opportunity for New Zealand and Indonesia to build a deeper relationship with each other.

That relationship is being tested, though, with the kidnapping of the New Zealand pilot, Philip Mehrtens, by West Papua independence fighters.

Mehrtens has now been held captive for over a year, but Luxon thanked Amin for the help Indonesia had provided on the matter.

But ultimately, the challenge facing New Zealand’s foreign policy players is dealing with a world where politics intrudes much more into the economic and trade space.

That much was conceded by the Deputy Chief Executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ben King, at a Select Committee meeting on Monday.

He said one of the shifts that the Ministry was seeing in international relations was from economics to security.

“And it’s a shift in which economic relationships are reassessed in light of increased military competition and a more securitized and less stable world, “ he said.

David Capie, the director of Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Studies, reported last night that speaking at an Asia Foundation function, Winston Peters had stressed that New Zealand’s relations with Asia were about “more than trade”.

And Peters said there would be significantly more focus and resources applied to South, Southeast & North Asia.

The region was key to NZ’s prosperity & security, he said..

He will have an opportunity to expand on that theme later today when he meets Amin.