New U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Tom Udall on Maori Culture, Climate Change, China and Trade
New United States Ambassador Tom Udall at his press conference at Camperdown, his residence in Lower Hutt. Video / Mark Mitchell
The new US Ambassador to Aotearoa, New Zealand said some of his “proudest achievements” were those of the indigenous peoples of his country and that he was “delighted” to be working here alongside the Maori.
Tom Udall, who arrived in the country just over 10 days ago with his wife Jill Cooper, recited a pepeha – traditional Maori introduction – as he addressed reporters here for the first time.
“I love these greetings, I’ve heard them all my life.
“What we share, many of our tribes, is this love and attachment to the land … let’s pass it on to the next generation as good stewards.”
Udall, 73, also ambassador to Samoa, is one of the first appointments made under President Joe Biden’s administration, and replaces Scott Brown, who was appointed by Donald Trump and left his post in December of the year last.
It comes as the United States broadly seeks to counter China’s sphere of influence, particularly in the Pacific.
Udall, a Democrat, retired in 2021 after two terms in the United States Senate representing New Mexico.
Udall said some of his “proudest accomplishments” were due to his collaboration with Native American tribal leaders in his state, including advancing tribal self-reliance, revitalizing the native language and protecting sacred areas.
He also helped secure $ 8 billion in funding for tribal governments in their responses to Covid-19.
After stepping down from his post, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said Udall had been “an advocate and champion of the Navajo people.”
Speaking at a press conference today at his Lower Hutt residence, Udall said he was very keen to learn as much as possible about Maori culture.
When asked what he had learned during his work with the tribes, he answered the importance of sovereignty.
“The first thing is that the indigenous people of New Mexico, the Native Americans really care that they are nations within the nation, and they care about their sovereignty.”
Udall said his role here was to represent Biden, for whom he was interned in 1973 and who had been a “good friend ever since.”
His top three priorities here were climate change and the “existential crisis”, working closely with the Indo-Pacific allies and developing a “very good working relationship”, especially with the indigenous peoples of the country.
“I think there is going to be a lot of interest in New Zealand, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.”
On the recent Australia-UK-US security pact – AUKUS – Udall said New Zealand was “not sidelined”, although it was left behind. next to.
Faced with the rise of China and its growing presence in the Pacific, Udall said it was “very complicated”.
“You have an adversarial side and a competitive side.”
There were the human rights issues, then the “challenges” in areas such as the South China Sea, he said. But there was more and more common ground in areas such as tackling climate change.
“Our government has already made great efforts to work on climate change with China and I was very happy that John Kerry, in his role, met his counterpart during COP26. “
In New Zealand, he said he was eager to work with renewables, including geothermal, hydropower, and expansions in wind and solar.
Regarding a possible free trade agreement with the United States in the future, Udall said there are many commonalities, especially around trade diversification.
“We’re a great free trader, we love to trade. So we should be interested in going out there and talking to them and seeing what we can do.”
Udall and his wife were in controlled isolation upon arrival in the country. On Wednesday, he presented his credentials as Ambassador to Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro.
Prior to becoming a senator, Udall served five terms in the United States House of Representatives and was Attorney General of New Mexico.
He comes from a family well known for public service: his father Stewart Udall was Home Secretary, his uncle Mo Udall was a Congressman from Colorado, and his cousin Mark Udall was a Senator from Colorado.