New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has met US president Joe Biden to discuss shared concerns about China’s growing influence in the Pacific, as well as extremism and dealing with the aftermath of mass shootings.
The two leaders spoke for more than an hour, with Biden saying Ardern’s leadership on issues like climate change, violence and extremism was of international importance.
“Your leadership has taken on a critical role in this global stage,” Biden said. “It really has – galvanising action on climate change; the global effort to curb violence, extremism, and online, like happened in Christchurch.”
For New Zealand, the visit was a significant one – the first time a prime minister had visited the Oval Office since 2014. It comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Pacific region, where New Zealand is looking to shore up relationships amid a push by China to sign Pacific Island nations on to new security and economic pacts. But the two leaders’ different experiences with mass shootings, gun control and extremism also loomed large.
Ardern’s trip coincided with the aftermath of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings. The prime minister’s own history on gun control – banning most-semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings, which killed 51 in 2019 – made the issue an unexpected focus of her trip, especially for Americans frustrated by a lack of legislative action on gun control.
On mass shootings, Ardern said, “Our experience, of course, in this regard, is our own. But if there’s anything that we can share that would be of any value, we are here to share it.”
Biden spoke at some length about the grief that followed the shootings in New York and Texas, as he struggles to push a reluctant Congress to tighten gun laws. “There’s an expression by an Irish poet that says, ‘Too long a suffering makes a stone of the heart.’ Well, there’s an awful lot of suffering. I’ve been to more mass shooting aftermaths than, I think, any president in American history, unfortunately. … So much of it is preventable, and the devastation is amazing,” he said.
He spoke about his recent experience of spending hours speaking to Texas survivors and those who had lost loved ones, and said he wanted to speak with Ardern about her own conversations in the wake of the Christchurch attacks – including the Christchurch call, an international effort to curb online violent extremism.
“I want to work with you on that effort. And I want to talk to you about what those conversations were like, if you’re willing,” he said.
After the meeting, Ardern said: “While in New Zealand we know we have more work to do on the issue of gun crime, we can share what we have learned through the changes we made.”
For New Zealand, the highest priorities was discussing trade, climate, and the security of the Indo-Pacific region, where China has become an increasingly muscular player.
Biden emphasised that the US wanted to build relationships and “work together” in the region.
“I want to emphasise the last point you made: “working together”… We are not coming to dictate or lay down the law …. We have more work to do in those Pacific islands,” he said.
Ardern said following the meeting that the conversation “came at a critical moment” and the two leaders “recommitted to working together, and alongside others, in the pursuit of peace and stability, and in defence of the international rules-based order”.
Senior administration officials said the pair had spoken for significantly longer than expected – scheduled for an hour, the meeting ran to 90 minutes.
The pair also discussed the war in Ukraine, and trade partnerships, with Ardern urging Biden to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP).