Covid-19 has been an all-dominating distraction from international relations, but also shows how important New Zealand's relationships with other countries are, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta says.
Opening the two-day annual Foreign Policy School at the University of Otago last night, Mahuta gave a wide-ranging assessment of New Zealand's foreign policy issues: trade negotiations, climate change, human rights and even an outline of her thoughts on how to administer outer space.
But the impact of the global pandemic and the diplomatic challenges and opportunities posed by it were a recurrent theme.
Mahuta said New Zealand had already committed to protecting more than 1 million Pacific Islanders from Covid-19, as well as reprioritising $120 million to support Pacific economies devastated by the impact of the pandemic on trade and tourism.
"We will support each island nation's ambition to chart their own development pathway in conjunction with our common commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals," she said.
"Over time it is my intention to strengthen the integration of this approach to our Overseas Development Assistance Framework."
"Other actors" were starting to play a role in the Pacific, she said, and New Zealand needed to work in partnership with island nations to develop programmes to help them recover after Covid-19.
"There is a lot we do not know for certain about Covid's trajectory, but its effects on societies and governments will compound over time.
"We must learn to adjust our own foreign policy sails as we determine new directions."
However, Covid-19 was not the root cause of the challenges faced by New Zealand, rather it had highlighted and exacerbated issues which had existed long before, Mahuta said.
"It has undermined stability in many places, made humanitarian crises worse, and heightened civil unrest and conflict, and as we meet these challenges, we must not be diverted from the ever-present challenge of climate change and threats to the ocean environment on which we, and our Pacific neighbours, rely."
Mahuta said in a Covid-19 landscape public events were a valuable chance for her to have face-to-face meetings with people.
"I may well be the only foreign affairs minister who never gets to travel," she said.
"Virtual diplomacy can only achieve so much, because in a face-to-face meeting you can have those curly conversations which might be difficult on the virtual platform, but you do the best you can."
The event was the 55th Foreign Policy School. It continues today, hosting sessions on topics such as small and middle state leadership, climate policy, and connections between trade and values and interests.