New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern Meets President Joe Biden at the White House

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on the backdrop of the increasing spotlight on climate change, gun control and rising tensions in the Pacific as China seeks to expand its influence in the region.

Biden told Ardern the United States needed guidance from New Zealand’s leadership, which had taken a “critical role” in addressing global issues, and has galvanised action on climate change and the effort to curb extremist violence.

“And I want to work with you on that effort,” Biden said. “So, I look forward to our conversations today. We have a lot to talk about. And I’m really, really delighted to have you here.”

The president said both leaders had “a lot to do” in many global issues, including the Pacific Islands.

After the meeting, Ardern said the meeting with President Biden reflected the relationship between the two countries.

“Warm, friendly, shared values, and shared challenges,” Ardern told reporters. “I’m greatly heartened by the nature of the conversation that we had today.”

She noted that New Zealand was in a region that is “increasingly contested,” but that engagement in the region had to be “on our terms, respectively” and not in the response to China.

It was the first time a New Zealand prime minister visited has visited a United States president in the White House since former Prime Minister John Key met President Barack Obama in 2014.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to members of the media after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, at the White House in Washington, on May 31, 2022. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Pacific Islands Agenda

In a joint statement between the White House and the Beehive (the NZ government’s name for executive arms of the parliament), both governments reaffirmed their “steadfast commitment” to the Pacific Islands region.

Ardern welcomed the United States’ decision to heighten its engagement in the region and the expansion of its physical diplomatic presence across the Pacific.

“We are concerned with growing strategic competition in the Pacific region, which threatens to undermine existing institutions and arrangements that underpin the region’s security,” the statement said.

The two countries particularly noted its concern with the security agreement between Beijing and the Solomon Islands and the establishment of a military presence by a state that “does not share our values.”

The comments came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed a security pact with the Pacific Island nation of Tonga during his Pacific Island tour, following other signed deals with Kiribati, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands.

Additionally, in the joint statement, the White House labelled climate change as an “existential threat” to countries around the world, with potentially “devastating impacts” in the Pacific region.

According to the United Nations body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), higher temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius would see entire countries in the Pacific Islands underwater by the end of the century.

But a study by the University of Auckland found that some low-lying islands in the Pacific thought to be at risk of being submerged underwater have actually increased in size since 1943.

The comments from the U.S. and N.Z. follow a commitment from the new Australian government to fund new Pacific climate investment.

“We will listen. We will hear you—your ideas for how we can face our shared challenges and achieve our shared aspirations together,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong told Fijians in a speech on May 26

Gun Control

The prime minister’s visit also touched on gun control and violent extremism after the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers.

The Biden administration has pledged to continue to work alongside the technology sector and civil society to counter violent extremist content online.

Ardern addressed the issue of online radicalisation in her Harvard keynote address, where she called on social media companies to recognise and take action on the power they hold as the new “town square.”

“We will continue to work together to build strategies and share best practices to counter disinformation and misinformation, the spread of which threatens our democratic values and institutions,” the joint statement said.

Biden also pledged to meet with congress about gun control legislation, without saying any specifics.

“I’ve been to more mass shooting aftermaths than, I think, any President in American history, unfortunately,” he said. “And so much of it is preventable and the devastation is amazing.”

From The Epoch Times

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