By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) - New Zealand is ready to share its experience with Ankara about diplomatic expansion in the wider Asia-Pacific region, according to its ambassador.
“We stand ready to share with Türkiye, our experiences in that regard,” Zoe Coulson-Sinclair told Anadolu, discussing Türkiye’s Asia Anew initiative.
Coulson-Sinclair’s comments came as New Zealand prepares to celebrate its national day -- known as Waitangi Day -- when people of all communities and backgrounds gather Monday in Waitangi, a small village in the north, to commemorate the first signing of New Zealand's founding document: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, The Treaty of Waitangi.
The pact between New Zealand’s indigenous people and the British Crown was signed Feb. 6, 1840.
Sitting against a wall that showcased artwork -- a representation of a number of the original signatures of the Treaty of Waitangi, Coulson-Sinclair said her country of more than 5 million could be a link between the region and Türkiye as New Zealand “might look like a gateway for some Turkish companies that are interested in reaching into the Pacific, the Pacific Islands region -- these are the kind of ways in which maybe we can help.”
Türkiye launched the Asia Anew initiative in 2019 to “further enhance its relations with Asia, which is becoming the world’s economic center, in multiple dimensions.”
The initiative is seen by experts as a step toward reshaping the future diplomacy of Türkiye, a country that straddles two continents and “is a bridge between the East and the West.”
A large country like Türkiye, said Coulson-Sinclair, “can't ignore the rise of Asia -- with growing significance.”
“New Zealand has invested an incredible amount in the last 30 years to make sure that it is very linked into the wider Asia Pacific region as a small country, dependent on trade -- connectivity is everything for us,” said New Zealand’s top diplomat in Türkiye, recalling Wellington was the second country to recognize the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
- Varied, hectic, interesting and exciting work during Ist year in Türkiye
Coulson-Sinclair was appointed as New Zealand's top diplomat in Türkiye in December 2021.
She acknowledged presenting credentials to Türkiye’s president “for a girl out of the South Pacific ... the opportunity to meet with the head of (a) state at a rather impressive ceremony was definitely a highlight.”
“The work here is so very varied, the country is engaged in every aspect of foreign policy, the domestic and economic political developments are also fascinating for a diplomat to observe,” she said. “So, if I was to evaluate my year, I would say it was varied and hectic and fun.”
Having traveled around Türkiye last year for official and non-official purposes, Coulson-Sinclair called Russia’s war against Ukraine “definitely a low point” that she witnessed from Ankara.
“Something that I didn't imagine would happen in my time here, but has turned the world's attention to this part of the world,” she said.
But for a career diplomat like Coulson-Sinclair, the global changes in the past year have “resulted in a lot of interest in Türkiye’s perspective on that conflict.”
- Anzac Day important in ‘developing an inclusive New Zealand’
For this year’s Anzac Day, Coulson-Sinclair said the New Zealand Embassy was working “to put in place all of the logistical arrangements” for the April 25 annual event.
“The landing at Gallipoli (is) particularly important because it was really one of the first steps where New Zealand started to develop its own unique identity.
“At that time as a British dominion -- I don't think New Zealanders realized that they had already become a separate people in their own right,” said Coulson-Sinclair, calling Anzac “really important in New Zealand's history.”
“They thought of themselves as very much connected to their colonial masters to the motherland that was Britain. And then once they were there fighting alongside their colonial counterparts, they suddenly realized actually, we are -- we are a bit different,” she said.
On April 25, 1915, nine months into World War I, Allied soldiers landed on the shores of the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula. The troops were there as part of a plan to open the Canakkale Strait on Türkiye’s Aegean Sea coast to Allied fleets, allowing them to threaten the then-Ottoman capital of Istanbul.
The Allied forces, however, encountered strong and courageous resistance from the Turks and the campaign turned into a costly failure. Tens of thousands of Turkish nationals and soldiers died along with tens of thousands of Europeans, plus 7,000 - 8,000 Australians and nearly 3,000 New Zealanders.
Victory against the Allied forces boosted the morale of the Turkish side, which went on to wage a war of independence between 1919 and 1922 and eventually formed a republic in 1923 from the ashes of the old empire.
Anzac Day in New Zealand and Australia is a significant national holiday that honors Australian and New Zealand forces that fought and died in Canakkale on Türkiye’s western coast in 1915. Australia and New Zealand commemorate the event at Gallipoli.
“We have a unique identity and the Maori contingent was the first time that as a group, they fought alongside their, the British Dominion individuals. So, it was also an important moment in our history for developing an inclusive New Zealand,” said Coulson-Sinclair.
She said the day is to “remember the past and the sacrifices made by those who fought for our independence and for peace in the world.
“But we recognized the service of people working today and also at home in New Zealand, those people that helped keep us safe. And there's a very strong focus on that recognition,” she added.
- Diversity of economic opportunities
Coulson-Sinclair said Türkiye and New Zealand have “diversity of economic engagement,” calling it “exciting.”
Recalling her engagements with Turkish business houses including Türkiye’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, Istanbul Chamber of Industry and Independent Industrialists and Businessmen Association (MUSIAD), Coulson-Sinclair said she visited Gaziantep and Sanliurfa where she met companies that are cooperating with New Zealand.
“The range of areas where this collaboration is taking place kind of knocked my socks off really -- there are New Zealand chemicals that have been used in the TURKOVAC,” said the ambassador.
TURKOVAC is a coronavirus vaccine that is produced in Türkiye.
Pointing to collaborations in the tourism industry, Coulson-Sinclair said a New Zealand-made electric bike “is the new means of having fun at these Turkish water resorts.”
“This New Zealand technology, a very cool thing that is very popular around the South Pacific and is now making a splash here at Antalya,” she said about the hydrofoil bike used by water skiers in Türkiye’s southern coastal province.
“We’ve got really interesting collaborations happening in the agricultural space with New Zealand high-tech machinery being used to help farmers manage climate effects.
“Really, it’s some sort of many and varied -- it’s been very exciting to see that so I’m hoping that through, you know, greater profile raising of this kind of collaboration we can explore even more opportunities in the economic space,” she said.
Coulson-Sinclair said New Zealand companies understand “very well” the important geopolitical location of Türkiye.
“They understand this better than we do. There are really exciting initiatives already underway, where Türkiye is being used as a manufacturing hub,” she said, referring to partnerships between companies from the two countries.
She said New Zealand’s “high-quality raw product is being imported” to Türkiye and then after “producing a very high-quality product, which they are then in a combined way, exported to one of the third markets that Türkiye’s amazing geographic location gives them access to.”
- New Zealand lauds Türkiye’s mediatory role in Russia-Ukraine conflict
On Türkiye’s role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Coulson-Sinclair said New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta directed “her thanks” to her Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, when they met in Cambodia late last year.
Nanaia expressed her gratitude that “Türkiye managed to position itself in that mediatory role in order to try and offset some of the risks of food insecurity, the growing threats of which were coming as a direct result of the war,” said Coulson-Sinclair.
“Any attempts at diplomacy and finding diplomatic solutions, of course, New Zealand would always prefer to see a war that ended peacefully but the war has sent shockwaves right around the world, including New Zealand,” she said.
“This is not just a regional conflict. It had a huge impact on our foreign policy,” said New Zealand’s top diplomat in Türkiye. Her country had for the first time in its diplomatic history, enacted legislation to impose unilateral sanctions.
“Until this point in time, we have only ever implemented sanctions under a United Nations umbrella,” she said. “But this we felt, the illegal invasion of Ukraine, was something that just could not go unnoticed. And so, it's it has been very significant for us as well.”
- ‘Uniquely honest’ way of ex-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
The sudden stepping down as New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was “for all of us -- was a shock,” said Coulson-Sinclair.
“But once we sat back and reflected on her announcement, and once again saw the very authentic leadership that our former prime minister brings, it made sense, in her uniquely honest way,” she said.
Ardern, 42, resigned last month because, as she said, she no longer had “enough in the tank” to continue the nation’s top job.
She is set to serve as a member of Parliament until April.
“Throughout those very difficult challenges, we were blessed, we were lucky to have a leader that brought a new and fresh kind of clever, strong and compassionate leadership to the table,” said Coulson-Sinclair, recalling the Christchurch terror attack in 2019 and challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“And that steered our country effectively through a range of crises that we were all experiencing for the first time,” she said. “I'm sad, she's left. I'm happy that she was there throughout that period.”