Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

NEW ZEALAND: A Chilean Perspective

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

NEW ZEALAND: A Chilean Perspective

Article excerpt

Matthew O'Meagher outlines how New Zealand and its neighbours appeared to a Chilean observer thirty years ago.

Latin America made quite an impression on the first New Zealand Prime Minister to spend a week there. During her visit to Chile, Peru and Mexico in May, Jenny Shipley spoke glowingly of Latin America's commitment to free trade and the `massive' benefits New Zealand would gain if it could forge a trade agreement with that region.

Although many of the Prime Minister's comments about Latin America were influenced by the need to drum up support at home and abroad for this year's APEC meeting,(1) her focus during this visit was not merely short-term. According to the Prime Minister, New Zealand is `in danger of being overtaken by Latin America if it does not forge new alliances' with this `powerhouse of the future'. To promote alliances, she discussed the possibility of an open skies agreement with Peru and a free trade agreement with Chile -- and how, by involving Australia and Singapore too, the Chilean deal might create closer ties between Asia, Australasia, and Latin America. Aside from commercial ties, she also suggested strengthening educational links, and agreed with Chile's leaders to look at joint fishing surveillance and search-and-rescue operations in the southern ocean.(2)

The attention to matters other than commerce during the Prime Minister' s visit is significant. Though Spanish is now the second most popular foreign language in New Zealand schools, and New Zealand embassies there and Latin American embassies here are initiating cultural and educational exchanges, the peoples of New Zealand and Latin America's republics still do not know each other well. While New Zealand-Latin America relations blossomed in the 1990s, they remain founded on a very narrow base of economic and bureaucratic ties.

Other dimensions

If the relationship is to grow to fulfil its potential, it must include other dimensions as well, lest it be fall away during economic downturns. This was the consensus of a University of Auckland conference on New Zealand-Latin American relations last year, which featured speakers such as Don McKinnon, Helen Clark and Sir Dryden Spring, and it has long been the view of Chile's ambassador in Wellington, Fernando Reyes Matta. According to Ambassador Reyes, relations between New Zealand and Latin America should also be built with the long-term in mind, and be promoted by bold projects across a range of fields which capture the imagination of young people.

Building a new, long-term perspective of New Zealand's relations with Latin America demands more than thinking about the future, however. It also requires uncovering the history of New Zealand's past and present ties to Latin America. If Latin Americans do not know that New Zealanders have been interested in them in eras when their region held less promise, it would not be unreasonable for them to conclude that New Zealanders may be `fair weather friend[s] there for the good times and the business' only. This was the worry Helen Clark raised last year in relation to how Asians could interpret recent New Zealand interest in them, and it would seem applicable to New Zealand's relations with Latin Americans too. In like fashion, her suggestion that such accusations of opportunism should be countered by presenting the `continuity of New Zealand's interest in Asia'(3) can also be made about our ties to Latin America.

Though these ties have been fewer, constructing a history of New Zealand's relations with all Latin America over all historical eras is still an enormous task. If the goal is to show the continuity between New Zealand's past and present links with Latin America, it is enough here to study the late 1960s and (especially) the early 1970s.

While earlier eras contain many topics linking New Zealand to Latin America -- including pre-European cultural exchanges between Maori and Amerindians(4) -- it was thirty years ago only when New Zealand established trade ties and a diplomatic presence in Latin America which survive to the present. …

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