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Old Friends, New Challenges: New Zealand and the United States in the Asia-Pacific Century

Speech by Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Fairmont Hotel, Washington DC
March 20, 2007

Joe Snyder, Executive Director of the Asia Society, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you all here in Washington DC. The Asia Society has been fostering stronger relations between the peoples of the Asia-Pacific and the United States for over fifty years now, and your work continues to be held in high regard in the region.

If your founder, John D Rockefeller III, were with us today, he would be astounded by the Asia we see in the 21st Century. When he created this Society, analysts were predicting that South Korea would remain impoverished, and that Myanmar would be the region's shining star.

Now the pundits say that if the 20th Century belonged to the Atlantic, then this century will be for the Asia-Pacific. In New Zealand we definitely see that shift, along with the continuing important role of the United States. Yours is both an Atlantic and a Pacific nation, and in our eyes a vital partner in the Asia-Pacific.

Our region has seen phenomenal growth over the last 25 years, and there is no sign of it abating. The Asia-Pacific is now home to almost half of the world's population, accounts for close to half of world trade, and produces 57 per cent of global GDP. Eight of the world's ten fastest growing economies are in Asia.

Already the rising economic power of China and India is bringing with it greater regional and global influence. The size of Asia's middle classes will soon rival that of North America and Europe, with an estimated 400 to 800 million citizens so defined by 2015.

This audience does not need to be told how important Asia is to the United States—the facts speak for themselves. Half of the top ten trading partners of the U.S. are in Asia, accounting for nearly U.S. $1 trillion of U.S. trade. The U.S. is the number one trading partner in the region.

Asia's economic progress has lifted millions in our region out of poverty and given them a stake in the global economy. The size and openness of the U.S. economy has played a large role in that. So too has the fact that the region has enjoyed relative peace and stability over the past quarter century.

Asia is of great importance to New Zealand's trade and economic interests. We have seen good growth in trade with Asia, and it has been complemented by flourishing people-to-people links. The number of Asian tourists visiting our shores has almost tripled since 1990, and students from Asia dominate our international education sector. Our demography is fast changing too: with Asian New Zealanders now comprising 9.2 per cent of our population.

We also have significant political and security interests in the region. We note with pleasure encouraging developments, like the holding of democratic elections, which New Zealand and the United States, as longstanding champions of democracy, can celebrate, while also noting that there have been setbacks—most recently in Thailand.

New security threats have emerged in the region, notably from terrorism and proliferation. In today's globalised world, these threats, if left unchecked, can move rapidly across borders. As well, parts of our region are still grappling with traditional transnational concerns, like infectious diseases, drug trafficking, refugees, environmental degradation, and humanitarian disasters.

New Zealand has played its part in promoting peace and prosperity in the region over the years. For long periods of the twentieth century, the Asia Pacific experienced conflict, and we in New Zealand and the United States have found ourselves in several theatres within the region from the Second World War on.