WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will meet US President Joe Biden on Tuesday (May 31) at the White House, where she said she expects to discuss ongoing US engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Top of mind for us, alongside the situation in Ukraine, is the situation in our region,” she told New Zealand media at a press conference in Washington DC. “We’ll be encouraging the United States to really continue and strengthen engagement in our region including economic engagement, which is really critical to our region.”
The meeting has taken on greater importance as New Zealand in recent weeks has raised concerns about China’s presence in the region following news that Beijing had signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.
China has made a concerted push to grow its influence and the country’s foreign minister is currently in Tonga as part of a region-wide tour.
Ms Ardern said along with meeting Mr Biden, she also expected to meet Vice-President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell.
“It’s not about annouceables. It’s not about new initiatives. It is actually about that relationship,” she said.
Ms Ardern has been in the United States as part of a trade delegation promoting New Zealand and business. She also delivered the commencement address at Harvard University.
The two countries are close friends but the meeting with Mr Biden had been uncertain after Ms Ardern tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, given strict White House pandemic protocols.
Three members of Ms Ardern’s delegation have now also tested positive for Covid-19.