NZ keen to enhance ties with Malaysia – With David Pine

David Pine

ENHANCING BILATERAL TIES: (From left) Pine, New Zealand Education Regional Director for South East Asia Isak Human, New Zealand Trade’s Commissioner for Malaysia and Brunei Matt Ritchie. — Photos by Chimon Upon

KUCHING: Malaysia has a long history of bilateral ties with New Zealand in education and trade.

Recently, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Malaysia His Excellency David Pine and his delegation were in Kuching and managed to find time to be interviewed by thesundaypost on key issues which both countries continue to cooperate and enhance.

The following are the excerpts of the interview.

BP: Can you tell us about yourself?

Pine: I am a career diplomat with the ministry of foreign affairs for about 19 years. Most of the last ten years are postings around South East Asia. This is my second posting to Malaysia and I had in between times been the ambassador to the Philippines as well. So I am pretty interested in South East Asia.

BP: How is the current bilateral tie between your country and Malaysia?

Pine: Our relationships have been in very good shape, very frequent and regular contact between ministers including our prime ministers seeing each other by visiting each other’s country regularly.

We are very keen to see your Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to visit New Zealand next year and we are working, as officials, to will try to make that visit happens.

The area of strength in our relationship has very deep roots and foundation especially in education which is the deepest and strongest in our ties. Commercially, Malaysia is our top ten trading partners and is pretty healthy in both directions which recorded about RM2.5 billion last year.

BP: What are the areas which your country would like to continue to strengthen with Malaysia?

Pine: I supposed all these areas, especially political stability in Asean region is very important for New Zealand and we want to engage closer and closer to Asean. Malaysia is really important within Asean as it knows and understands us and a country we look to, to help us engaged and deepen our relationship in the region.

We look at this region as a developing its own identity but we don’t want to see the world divided into groups and close their doors to us. So there is a place for New Zealand at the table of Asean. But it’s a place we have to earn.

The relationship is going to be very important for us compared to the region to us. So it’s up to us to make sure that we are contribution and that we value the region and I think we work pretty hard at that and our friends have told us we have done a pretty good job. So I think our future is even more in the Asian region.

BP: How can we in Sarawak promote greater ties with New Zealand especially in promoting better relationship and to promote tourism?

Pine: We do not have direct flight from Sarawak to New Zealand. If there is, wouldn’t that be great.

But we do have MAS flying from KL to Auckland and that’s vital for us. It’s not just about tourism but the whole issue that involves people to people relationship. It makes relationship more viable. It’s something we are working very hard at to make sure that our country becomes an attractive destination.

We are closely linked by air all the time. We had at one time AirAsia X flying to Christchurch in April 2011 but unfortunately they are not able to sustain its business model of long haul, low cost carrier. It was actually very popular and the flights were always full. So we love to see AirAsia X retuning to the market and we will keep talking to them on this issue.

BP: How is Malaysia being perceived by New Zealanders in terms of our religious and press freedom?

Pine: In general, Malaysia has a very good reputation in New Zealand. It is perceived as a country that goes long way back with us. Well, if you ask most New Zealanders, they will perceive Malaysia as a positive country. That it is prospering and that’s very important for this region.

We don’t see much of that issues being discussed really in New Zealand. I don’t see public debate about it. I think those issues are very lively here in Malaysia and I think that’s an important debate.

BP: Are your dairy products Halal?

Pine: Around 98 per cent of our slaughter houses are halal certified. So what that means is that we can export our meat throughout the Muslim world including Malaysia with certification obviously. We have a large number of home-grown Muslim population to undertake the job.

BP: How does New Zealand cope up with labour shortage as experienced by many developed countries?

Pine: We have about 14,000 dairy farms with an average size of 400 acres. They are quite large by international standard. It is not as industrialised as the American-scale model. We still have people waking up early in the morning to their farms. We are not fully mechanized yet. There are still some areas where we still need labour.

We have a scheme where we get our labour from the South Pacific countries, but it’s not a big issue at all. Occasionally you found shortage for a short period but not acute.

In general, it’s reasonably balanced. Our harvesting time is usually in summer and the students actually do a lot of harvesting in our fruits and vegetables farms. So it’s quite a good timing.

BP: What is New Zealand’s stance in regards to whaling and on Antarctica?

Pine: Environment is close to the New Zealanders’ hearts. New Zealanders have very strong views about whaling. There are two separate issues here. There is an issue about conservation of the species and whales have become endangered in many parts of the world. New Zealand government, from whatever political parties they come from, has stood up against whaling for decades. I think New Zealand feel strongly about that (whaling).

On Antarctica, it is a very important to us because it’s very close to us and there is nothing between us and Antarctica except for water. Occasionally, we see blocks of ice chipped away from Antarctica and floating to our waters which has raised concerns from the people.

In the 1950’s during the Cold War, Antarctica was an area of strategic competition between the East and west and we were very concern about the security problem close at home and a treaty system which was developed and signed then was really important to us because of security issue. But more than that it’s the last wilderness and needs to be preserved.

We want Antarctica to be reserved for science. It’s a great environment for the study of climate change and Malaysian scientists have done a good job on that area down in Antarctica.

You may know that we have a strong history on Antarctica research programme and we were very delighted when Malaysia joined Antarctica treaty a couple of years back and we were delighted to host His majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Mizan of Terengganu, was at that time performing one of his last official duties. So we know he really valued and he understands what we are trying to achieve in Antarctica. And for your information, we do have Malaysian researchers at New Zealand’s Scot’s Base in Antarctica.

What happened during the treaty system signed in the 1950’s was that countries which have claims agreed to freeze their claims; not to give up but just to accept that we do not pursue it in an active ways. So those claims sit underneath the treaty system and on top of the treaty system we have the system of management of Antarctica by all members.

Tthe 12 original signatories are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, NZ, Norway, South Africa, Soviet Union, the US and the UK.

BP: Do you think Malaysia can achieve its Vision 2020, i.e. to become a developed country by the year 2020?

Pine: Parts of Malaysia are already sophisticated and developed. It’s a matter of making it even across the country, isn’t it? I believed Malaysia is well on track to achieve its Vision 2020 of being a developed country by the year 2020. We have a lot of confidence in its economic future.

BP: What’s the demographic pattern of New Zealand?

Pine: New Zealand’s population of 4.5 million is a multi-religious country. Ethnically, our Maori population is about 16-18 per cent; Polynesians about eight per cent; Asian about 10 per cent; African and Middle-Eastern about four per cent and European origin about 60 per cent.

BP: What’s are the current issue in New Zealand?

Pine: It has been an incredibly exciting month for our women. We have a young woman who stands on top of the UK’s billboard chart as the number single. We have another New Zealander who won the Booker Prize (the prize has been awarded each year since 1969 to the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwaelth of Nations or the Republic of Ireland). And we have a 15-year old golfer who has just turned professional. That’s pretty exciting.

Secondly, we are going to organise the “Lima Mata Ikan” (in Maori its ‘Rima Mata Ika’) which means the same thing as Five Fish Eyes, on March 21-23 next year in Kuching and on March 24 in Kuala Lumpur.

It is a theme we thought of exploring the deep linkages between the Maoris with this part of the world that’s to be a good thing to do. We will have films competition and Malaysia and Kiwi kids can play together. It’s also going to focus on eco-tourism.

There will be quite a lot of things to do and I’m sure there would be quite a lot of fun as well. And for your information, a Maori business delegation led by our Minister of Maoris’ Affairs Dr Pita Sharples will also be coming here to explore the business opportunities.

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