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Ardern meets Japan’s Kishida and kiwifruit

Jacinda Ardern has touched down in Tokyo, posing with dancing kiwifruit and meeting Japanese leader Fumio Kishida.

The prime minister is on her first overseas trip since COVID-19 arrived in New Zealand, a six-day swing that takes in Singapore and Japan.

In Tokyo, Ms Ardern attended a function by NZ kiwifruit exporters Zespri, where she tried her hand at calligraphy and watched the anthropomorphic kiwifruit dance to traditional music before taking pictures alongside them.

“Sometimes it means you’ll find yourself doing the odd quirky thing,” she said of overseas travel.

“Kiwifruit is a huge export product for us here in Japan.”

As well as promoting Kiwifruit exports – worth $NZ750 million ($A685 million) to New Zealand in Japan alone – Ms Ardern announced a car sharing scheme, utilising hydrogen fuel cell-powered Toyota Mirai built in Japan, for Auckland.

The bilateral meeting came in the backdrop of China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands, which Ms Ardern has labelled “gravely concerning”, urging Honiara to turn to the Pacific for its security needs rather than Beijing.

New Zealand and Japan agreed to increase their own security cooperation, though not intelligence according to Radio NZ.

“This partnership matters,” Ms Ardern said.

“Japan and New Zealand must cooperate in what is a deeply uncertain global environment.”

Whether explicitly or otherwise, China was a major feature of the joint communique issued following the meeting.

The two leaders expressed “serious concern” about the situation in the South China Sea – without naming China.

They were more targeted in criticism of China over its human rights breaches, saying they held “grave concerns” regarding Xinjiang, where China is accused of targeting and enslaving the Uighur minority, and in Hong Kong due to the erosion of democratic institutions.

Mr Kishida and Ms Ardern also issued “unequivocal condemnation” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, condemning Russian war crimes.

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