Malaysia has missed out on hosting APEC next year – and a virtual conference means we miss out on bringing world leaders to NZ

An interesting tale of international diplomacy has emerged over NZ’s decision to turn next year’s round of APEC meetings – including the leaders’ summit – into a virtual event.

NZ had to fight off a determined bid by the 2020 host, Malaysia, which hoped it could have its hosting rights carried over to next year because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.  That would have meant NZ lost out because South Vietnam will host APEC in 2022.

Hanoi reportedly insisted on the previously agreed rotation and finding a solution involved lobbying in APEC’s 20 other capitals. Had Malaysia been successful, NZ would have had to wait another decade.

Wellington might have scored an own goal, however, by converting the November 2021 leaders’ meeting into a virtual event. Some observers felt this decision could have been delayed till early next year, possibly around February.

Under the announced arrangement, NZ will not physically host some of the world’s major heads of government, including possibly the next president of the US.  Older hands within the government recall the spin-off from the 1999 event which drew President Bill Clinton and China’s president Jiang Zemin.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says APEC in 2021 would use virtual digital platforms, as has occurred with many other international government-to-government events.  The global disruption caused by Covid-19, including resultant border restrictions, had been the major factor in the decision.

Peters says given the current global environment, planning to have such a large volume of high-level visitors in NZ from late 2020 onwards is impractical.

For planning and security reasons, a call had to be made on hosting APEC. It wasn’t practical to wait for many more months till a clearer picture of the virus’ spread emerged.

An in-person APEC would have resulted in thousands of people entering NZ from late 2020 onwards, some from COVID-19 hotspots. NZ couldn’t guarantee these people would be able to enter without being quarantined.

Trade minister David Parker said APEC is the leading economic and trade forum in the Asia-Pacific region. NZ will continue to look to find ways to showcase and leverage the virtual hosting of APEC to the national advantage.


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