Fourteen students from four universities gathered on a Tuesday afternoon in a room in Wellington overlooking the Beehive. Chosen from about 45 excellent applicants, they were there at the invitation of the North Asia Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence (North Asia CAPE). The following day they would attend the biennial conference of the New Zealand Institute of International Relations (NZIIA), addressed by the Prime Minister. But first, on Tuesday afternoon each student introducing themselves made clear the wide range of connections with the North Asia region and majors in humanities, global studies, law, engineering, science, commerce, music, and international relations.
Over a lively two hours the group heard about the North Asia experiences of five guests: former China ambassador Tony Browne, former Japanese fishing company and Te Puni Kōkori official Charles Rowe, Rhodes Scholar and former BCG consultant Alice Wang, along with Charlie Gao and Paul Clark from North Asia CAPE. A free-flowing discussion around the table brought out the importance of preparation in terms of cultural and language study and the need to be open to unexpected possibilities that may present themselves. Meeting others who shared their enthusiasm for China, Japan and Korea and also planned careers engaged with the region left all with a renewed sense of determination.
"We all actually found the panel discussion with CAPE on the Tuesday to be our highlight and everyone felt like they had a voice!" - Elizabeth de Jonge (student participant)
An evening networking reception across the road in the Grand Hall at Parliament Buildings followed. There the North Asia students met their counterpart groups from the Latin America and Southeast Asia CAPEs. At the NZIIA Conference at Te Papa the following day, this enthusiasm continued at sessions focused on New Zealand’s position in the region and its likely futures. These fourteen awardees will very much be part of those futures.
"New Zealand punches well above its weight in the international sphere. It cannot dictate to the US or China, nor can it presume to speak on behalf of smaller island nations. But it can continue to be a leader, independently crafting its own foreign policy and carving out its own pathway. In this way our ability to lead by example and to reach out to many nations and foster cooperation has served us well and will yet do so for years to come." - Levi Turner (student participant)