New Zealand Leader Urges Korea De-Escalation
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed support Thursday for economic sanctions against North Korea while also urging a de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, and said her country should maintain a close relationship with the United States even if they don’t always agree.
Ardern, 37, who this week will mark her first 100 days in office, made the comments in an interview with The Associated Press that also touched on her country’s relationship with China and the intense interest surrounding her recently announced pregnancy.
She said that despite her country’s small size, it would always use its voice to stand up for what it believes to be right.
She said the tensions surrounding North Korea were threatening regional security.
“We have spoken openly about the need for there to be a de-escalation,” she said. “Our huge opposition to the use of nuclear weapons. We’ve called on sanctions to be upheld and we’ve done what we can to enforce them in our region. And so yes, we’ve used the voice that we have.”
She said New Zealand doesn’t hold the view expressed by U.S. President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address this week that China is a rival.
“That is not how I would classify New Zealand’s relationship with China at all,” she said, emphasizing the last two words.
She said her country was not beholden to China despite its economic importance in buying New Zealand’s milk exports. She said New Zealand should also keep working with the U.S. for its own gain and that the relationship was “incredibly important.”
The possibility of Ardern giving birth while in office had become a point of contention from the time she became Labour Party leader last year, seven weeks before the election. She was twice asked by television hosts about her plans for children.
She responded that while she was happy to talk about her own plans, it was broadly an unacceptable question for women in the workplace. Her answers resonated with many people around the world.
Ardern said when she found out she was pregnant in October, two weeks before being sworn in as the nation’s leader, it was a moment of “pure shock” because she and partner Clarke Gayford had been told they would struggle to conceive without fertility treatment.
Their first child is due in June, when Ardern plans to take a six-week break from her job. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters will fill in.
“I just happen to be doing what many, many other thousands of women are doing, but just in a very public way,” she said. “I’m conscious, though, of not perpetuating this view that life’s easy. And that we just all need to get on with it, and that women can do absolutely everything.”
Ardern said she will get plenty of help, both from senior lawmakers who will take care of her political portfolios while she is absent and from her partner, who will become the primary caregiver for their child.
“So I don’t think women should feel this weight of expectation,” she said. “I think what we should feel is this expectation from those around us to share the load a little more.”
During the election campaign last year, Ardern’s Labour Party set out a 17-point plan for its first 100 days in office. Ardern said she felt they’d achieved all they had promised, although it was only the beginning. She said she wants to boost regional employment and improve education and health.
“So we’ve got some weighty goals, and a lot of ideas on how to get there,” she said. “It’s all implementation now, and I’m enjoying the challenge of putting in place the mechanisms to do that.”
Ardern said she hasn’t held any recent discussions with Australia over New Zealand’s longstanding offer to take 150 offshore refugees. Australia has a policy of not allowing any refugees who try to arrive by boat to settle in the country, and it pays neighboring countries to hold them, a policy many view as harsh.
Ardern said she didn’t think the issue had strained relationships between her and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“My last conversation with Malcolm was when he called to congratulate me on my baby news,” she said. “So look, I think we’ve got a great relationship.”