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Ardern arrives at APEC, Peters says China/US standoff makes NZ a key player in Pacific

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and deputy PM Winston Peters were unable to meet with Papua New Guinea's PM last night due to a change in schedule.

The pair are attending the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) meeting in Port Moresby, with Ms Ardern arriving last night, NZT.

Ms Ardern said PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's schedule had been pushed back and a number of bilateral meetings had been cancelled, including New Zealand's.

Pacific leaders meet at APEC 2018 in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Pacific leaders meet at APEC 2018 in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Source: Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

She said if she were able to have spoken with Mr O'Neill, she would likely have raised the issue of female representation in the PNG government.

Despite the schedule change, Ms Ardern said she was able to attend meetings with a number of Pacific nations' leaders, where climate change and plastic pollution were high on the agenda.

She also met briefly with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the APEC meeting in Port Moresby.
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the APEC meeting in Port Moresby. Source: Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

Speaking to reporters, Ms Ardern said New Zealand has a "unique" role to play in the Pacific, especially in helping them to develop, and in helping larger international players understand the challenges faced.

Ms Peters said the standoff between China and the US in the Pacific is increasingly causing nearby countries to look at New Zealand "with fresh eyes" for leadership and representation.

"That's something I wouldn't have seen before, I'm seeing it now, and I think it offers us enormous opportunity to have a far more profound influence in the shape of the Pacific," Mr Peters said.

The US and China are currently locked into a trade dispute, with the US threatening to double tariffs unless Beijing bows to its demands.

"China has taken advantage of the United States for many years," US Vice President Mike Pence told reporters - "Those days are over".

This year's APEC is being held in the poorest member country, and security issues have overshadowed the proceedings.

Ms Ardern and Mr Peters will be staying in Port Moresby, despite Mr Pence opting to fly back and forth from Cairns, and Ms Ardern said she felt comfortable with the security arrangements.

New Zealand has contributed about $15m to PNG in order to help them stage the summit.

Concerns have also been raised about the country purchasing a fleet of 40 new Maserati luxury sedans and three Bentleys to transport world leaders during the two-day event.

Business Insider reports the cost of the vehicles would have been somewhere around NZ$10m and Ms Ardern says she intends to take a more simple means of transport - in the form of a Toyota Highlander.

Once the two-day summit is complete, Prime Minister O'Neill has said "like many other international events that we have hosted in the past in the past 40 years, there has always been an arrangement where the private sector will buy those vehicles, so that it saves government money."

But opposition MPs say the vehicles would still be sold at a loss, and some have alleged that they may be sold for much cheaper than the RRP.

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters discuss the importance of New Zealand’s influence in the Pacific during APEC. Source: 1 NEWS