PM’s tour a hit with islands

It was a week of potently strong insect repellent, woven flax fans, and to put it bluntly – sweat.

Jacinda Ardern has completed a whirlwind trip of the Pacific Islands, stopping in Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

It was her first trip as Prime Minister, where she took the chance to meet with all the heads of the countries.

At every island there was a visit to some sort of school and it was in these moments that Ms Ardern shone the most.

She seemed to thoroughly enjoy the encounters with children. She laughed and joked with them and sat patiently through many performances.

In Tonga, the experience was more heartbreaking. Ms Ardern visited Fasi Government School where the children have been forced to work out of tents after Cyclone Gita.

She seemed visibly shocked by the extent of the damage to the school and while walking through the classrooms she pointed out the pictures, now ruined, but still hanging on the walls.

The trip was packed with events, often back-to-back with few breaks. The speed was even getting to the now clearly pregnant Ms Ardern – towards the end of the trip, events were hurriedly pushed forward to ensure the Prime Minister could rest at the end of the day.

Though she brought with her a delegation of MPs including deputy prime minister Winston Peters and climate change minister James Shaw, all eyes were on Ms Ardern.

Such was her popularity, she created some inter-island rivalry. In Samoa, they fought to be called her favourite island, in Niue she was called their daughter, and in Rarotonga they declared her baby part-Cook Island.

As in New Zealand, where the spelling of her name has already eluded many people, there was at least one typo, when a banner welcomed ‘Jacinta’ to Tonga.

The tone for the Pacific Mission was set by foreign minister Winston Peter’s speech last week, when he said a “Pacific reset” was needed.

Jacinda Ardern referred to this ‘reset’ several times on the trip and said it was about shifting from a donor-aid relationship to a partnership.

Money was given to Samoa and Tonga for cyclone recovery, more help is on its way for Niue’s renewable energy projects, and there’s been a shift in pension rules for Niueans and Cook Islanders.

But in the words of Mr Peters, these islands are now “attracting an increasing number of external actors and interests”.

That could mean many more trips of the like to ensure New Zealand keeps up its presence in the Pacific Islands.

Source: RadioNZ