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Opening the annual University of Otago Foreign Policy School last night, Ms Mahuta gave a wide-ranging assessment of New Zealand’s foreign policy issues at the moment, including trade negotiations, climate change, human rights and even gave thoughts on how to administer outer space, but the impact of the global pandemic and the diplomatic challenges and opportunities posed by it were a recurrent theme.
Ms Mahuta said New Zealand had already committed to protecting more than 1million Pacific Islanders from Covid-19, as well as reprioritising $120million to support Pacific economies devastated by the impact of the pandemic on trade and tourism.
"We will support each island nation’s ambition to chart their own development pathway in conjunction with our common commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals," she said.
"Over time it is my intention to strengthen the integration of this approach to our Overseas Development Assistance Framework."
"Other actors" were starting to play a role in the Pacific and New Zealand needed to work in partnership with the island nations to develop programmes which helped those nations to recover following Covid-19, Ms Mahuta said.
"There is a lot we do not know for certain about Covid’s trajectory, but its effects on societies and governments will compound over time.
"We must learn to adjust our own foreign policy sails as we determine new directions."
However, Covid-19 was not the root cause of the challenges faced by New Zealand, rather it had highlighted and exacerbated issues which had existed long before, Ms Mahuta said.
"It has undermined stability in many places, made humanitarian crises worse, and heightened civil unrest and conflict, and as we meet these challenges, we must not be diverted from the ever-present challenge of climate change and threats to the ocean environment on which we, and our Pacific neighbours, rely."
Afterwards, Ms Mahuta said opportunities such as the foreign policy school, being run by the university for the 55th time, were a valuable chance in a Covid-19 environment for her to have face-to-face meetings with people.
"I may well be the only foreign affairs minister who never gets to travel," she said.
"Virtual diplomacy can only achieve so much, because in a face-to-face meeting you can have those curly conversations which might be difficult on the virtual platform, but you do the best you can."
The school continues today, hosting sessions on topics such as small and middle state leadership, climate policy, trade and values and interests.