Foreign Minister Winston Peters is proving true to form with the appointment of MFAT career foreign service officer Hamish Cooper as NZ’s next ambassador to Japan.
Peters is looking to revive Tokyo-Wellington connections which many inside MFAT believe have been pushed aside in the quest to secure to get alongside China.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has been in the job since 2012 and now ranks as one of Asia’s most influential leaders. His role in reviving, and nailing down, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership after President Trump pulled out of it confirmed his statesmanship
He has built a reputation in Washington as a capable strategist and a key to constraining burgeoning Chinese interests out into the Pacific.
Peters says Cooper is eminently well qualified for this important role in Tokyo, as NZ’s relationship with Japan goes from strength to strength.
Cooper is fluent in the Japanese language and has served in Tokyo as Deputy Head of Mission and in Osaka as Consul-General. He has also served as Ambassador to the Russian Federation and to Turkey, and more recently has been the Senior Foreign Affairs Adviser in the in both the current and previous Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
His appointment coincides with an emerging consensus among moderate South East Asian states, the US, Australia and NZ to assist smaller Pacific Island governments to counter China’s persistent efforts to enlarge its presence.
Fisheries experts, for example, point to the near doubling of the Chinese foreign fishing fleets in the Pacific as Beijing seeks resources to sustain its rising middle class.
Peter says NZ welcomes Japan’s increased engagement in the Pacific and the two countries’ have agreed to work more cooperatively on development assistance in the region.
“Recent visits from NZ ministers, including myself, and those from Japan’s senior political leadership have confirmed the strength and significant mutual benefit of the NZ/Japan relationship.
“NZ and Japan enjoy a strong trade and economic relationship, which continues to grow under the CPTTP. We have shared interests on defence and security, and have long enjoyed friendships through cultural and sporting contacts.”
Peters further noted that both countries are looking forward to the Rugby World Cup, when NZ can expect wide recognition in Japan.