‘Celebrating New Zealand’s Diplomatic Relations - Global Connections and Diversity through Citizen Diplomacy’

Foreign Affairs

Warm pacific greetings to each of you.

First of all, I want to offer my deepest condolences to families of those who lost their lives, those who were injured, and the families and friends of all involved in the tragic incident in Seoul on 29 October. The thoughts of the Government and people of Aotearoa New Zealand are with the Republic of Korea and all other countries that lost people in this horrific incident.

I extend my acknowledgement to Kaumatua Kura Moeahu for his mihi this morning, and the tangata whenua as kaitiaki of the ground we are on, where our parliament stands.

I also want to acknowledge other distinguished guests in attendance: The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Ito Koichi; The Ambassador of the United States of America, His Excellency Tom Udall; The Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Wang Xiaolong; and Chargé d'affaires of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Ockchae Yoon.

Also in attendance today: My parliamentary colleague/s, Member/s of Parliament: President of Global Cities New Zealand and Mayor of Palmerston North, His Worship Grant Smith; President Emeritus of Global Cities New Zealand, Hiromi Morris; and other Mayors and Deputy Mayors. Your Worships, greetings.

Finally, I want to extend my greetings to all the representatives from the various sister-city organisations and community groups here today, many of which selflessly dedicate their time in maintaining and building connections between Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. It is with thanks to your tireless efforts, and those that have gone before you, that we are able to be here today.

There are a number of things we celebrate today. Firstly, 80 years of diplomatic relations with the USA, 70 years with Japan, 60 years with Korea, and 50 years with China. All of which are significant relationships for Aotearoa New Zealand, both in their own right, and collectively. All four are in our top 6 trading partners, and all are important partners with which we share our Indo-Pacific region.

Before I carry on, I also want to acknowledge other diplomatic anniversaries New Zealand celebrates this year that are not being showcased today. These include with India (1952), Samoa (1962), Peru (1972), Armenia (1992), Azerbaijan (1992), and Croatia (1992).

Noting the lack of formalised sister-city arrangements we have with these countries, Samoa and Aotearoa being a notable exception with the Treaty of Friendship, it is appropriate to hone today’s focus on our relationships with the US, Japan, Korea and China.

In fact, I understand that New Zealand cities, towns, and regions now boast over 100 formalised partnerships with these four countries together. Not a small feat from a small island nation of 5 million at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to these significant anniversaries, today’s forum also highlights people-to-people connections, and how everyday citizens contribute to, and underpin, our wider diplomatic relationships. A fitting term for this phenomenon is highlighted in a theme of today: the notion of citizen diplomacy.

Our Foreign Minister, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, has described Aotearoa New Zealand’s values based approach to engaging with the world, one that stems from New Zealand’s bi-cultural values that have characterised who we are and how we operate.

Values such as:

  • manaaki – kindness or the reciprocity of goodwill;
  • whanaunga – our connectedness or shared sense of humanity;
  • mahi tahi and kotahitanga – collective benefits and shared aspiration; and,
  • kaitiaki – protectors and stewards of our intergenerational wellbeing.

Together these principles support us as a nation to navigate our relationships with others in a diplomatic sense. Yet it is evident these values are also alive and well at the grassroots level. They are embodied in the mahi of the people that foster and grow friendly links and ties between our towns, cities and regions, and their counterparts offshore.

It is a pleasure to celebrate with you not just four significant diplomatic anniversaries this year, but also the integral role of local communities in contributing to those relationships.

On these themes I want to talk to each of the highlighted countries in turn, in order of the age of the relationship.


Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States built on long-standing connections by establishing diplomatic ties in 1942. We enjoy a deep and long lasting friendship that is based on shared democratic values and interests. We are also bound together through trade, economic, and significantly, people to people links. These connections and shared values were reinforced by Prime Minister Ardern and President Biden when they met at the White House in May.

Over the past two years the pandemic has caused massive disruption to us all. Although we have had border restrictions, we found new ways to remain connected with our friends, whanau and business partners in the United States.

The strength of our friendship and our resilience shone through as we adapted to keeping connected virtually. The US continues to be New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner, a major source of foreign direct investment, and a key innovation partner. Underpinning those economic connections are personal connections that are the lifeblood of our relationship.

I myself have family in Washington, Texas, Utah, Florida, Alaska, Hawaii and of course in California.

California and the city of Los Angeles, which has shared a sister-city connection with Auckland for over 50 years, have traditionally been the gateway for New Zealand products, businesses and people entering the United States. We are continuing to see those connections grow.  

Air New Zealand’s direct connection between New York and Auckland will also create new linkages with the US East Coast.

I also acknowledge the sister-city relationship between Christchurch and Seattle, who last year celebrated 40 years of ties and whose ties remain strong.

Pre-COVID, the US was New Zealand’s third largest tourism market. In 2019, New Zealand welcomed 368,000 visitors from the United States. With our borders now open we look forward to welcoming back our US friends and whanau and building more of the connections that make our relationship so deep and rich.


Next, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of relations with Japan.

Fundamentally, people are at the heart of our strong bilateral relationship. Over 18,000 New Zealanders have Japanese heritage, and many Kiwis have built rich lives and careers in Japan.  We share 47 sister city relationships, which have been great platforms for cultural, student and business exchanges. We enjoy fruitful cooperation between our universities and high schools.

Since 1952, our economies have grown ever closer, supported by long-standing business relationships and investment partnerships. Looking ahead, our cooperation in science and technology, renewable energy and green hydrogen, and CPTPP will continue to create promising new opportunities.

At a political level, Prime Minister Ardern’s visit to Tokyo this year, and her warm engagements with Prime Minister Kishida, show just how like-minded we have become on common challenges. The strength of our political relationship supports close collaboration on peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.

Many of you will be familiar with the exchange programmes, such as the Japan Exchange and Teaching ‘JET’ Programme, which further deepen our understanding of each other’s cultures. 

Before 2020, we usually welcomed over 115,000 Japanese people to Aotearoa New Zealand each year. 50,000 New Zealanders would also travel to Japan. We are very glad that visa free travel between our two countries has now resumed, and it’s great to be able to extend manaakitanga to Japanese whānau, business people, students and tourists once again.  

Across all of these connections, the story is clear – we have much to celebrate together in this 70th year of our relationship.


Looking at the Republic of Korea, 60 years on from when our countries established diplomatic ties, while our formal sister-city connections may not be as numerous as with others, they make up for it in depth and activity.

Congratulations to the Christchurch-Songpa-gu Sister City Committee for your fundraising efforts and constructing a Korean Pagoda in Halswell Quarry Park, recognising Canterbury veterans of the Korean War.

While Aoteaora New Zealand and Korea formalised diplomatic relations in 1962, it was on the battlefields and seas of the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s where the true genesis of our relationship began.  This conflict saw young New Zealanders volunteering to travel far from their homes to fight for the freedoms and liberties of the Korean people.

The shared experience of war helped form the bonds between our two countries, and over subsequent decades we have continued to work together to build a world founded on our shared values, and a bilateral relationship that is deep and wide ranging.

We have strong economic links, underpinned by our successful bilateral Free Trade Agreement. Trade in goods and services has bounced back from the disruptions of the pandemic, and in fact has now surpassed pre-COVID levels.

Significantly, Aotearoa New Zealand is home to some 34,000 people of Korean heritage and there are more than 3,000 kiwis living in Korea. Kiwis of Korean heritage make a hugely positive contribution to our multicultural society, and both countries can be proud of their accomplishments. And with our borders reopen, our people are resuming travel between our two countries for tourism, business, study and visiting family.

It is also promising to hear that Wellington and Seoul will be upgrading their ‘friendly city’ arrangement to a sister-city one in the near future.


On China, this December our two countries celebrate 50 years of formal relations. Not long after establishing diplomatic ties, New Zealand’s Overseas Trade Minister, Joe Walding, made the first visit to China by a New Zealand Minister since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. They made the trip with hopes of developing our relationship in all areas from trade and business, to cultural and sporting exchanges. From that visit, our relationship has continued to grow.

It is true, though, that the history of our bilateral relationship extends much further back than 1972. This history is evident in some of our sister city relationships – take Dunedin and Shanghai, for example. The sister city relationship between these two cities was formalised in 1994, but recognises the strong influence of early Chinese settlement in Dunedin dating back to the 19th Century. These days, Dunedin and Shanghai enjoy a fruitful sister city relationship, with educational exchanges and strong cultural and business links. 

For many of New Zealand’s other sister city relationships with China, connections have been sustained in inventive and innovative ways over the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the 15th anniversary of sister city relations between Wellington and Beijing was celebrated through a book display at Te Awe library, just down the road, with books donated by the Beijing Capital Library and Beijing Municipal Government. I know, too, that there have been a number of virtual exchanges, such as the youth leaders’ forum between Qingdao (pron: ch’ing-dao) and its New Zealand sister cities, delivered by the Institute of Global Engagement New Zealand.

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of our oldest sister city relationship between Hastings and Guilin (pron: gwey-lin). 2022 also marks the 10 year anniversary of the reconfirmed sister city relationship between Auckland and Ningbo (pron: ning-bor), which dates back to 1998 – and 35 years in the Wellington-Xiamen (pron: sha-men) relationship. There are now more than 25 sister-city relationships between us, many now decades old, and which I expect will continue for decades to come.


As we look at each of these relationships and celebrate four significant anniversaries, the active role of sister-city groups, and citizen diplomats, are common themes.

It is clear that Aotearoa New Zealand’s relationships with other countries are embedded in, and strengthened by, the connections and ties between our peoples. 

Given we are coming out of two years of isolation, sister-city groups and the ties they foster will be integral in the process of reconnecting with one another. Congratulations to these groups, to the citizen diplomats, for bridging New Zealand with the world, and for continuing to do so.

I will close with an often quoted whakatauki. Its popularity is reflective in the mutual understanding of those who use it, and its message which is echoed in the work of our sister-city groups and that of Aotearoa New Zealand:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata. He tangata. He tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world? The people. The people. The people.

As we head towards Christmas, I wish you all a very merry Christmas. Stay safe.

Thank you