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NZ leader Ardern notes importance of women in business, politics during Japan visit

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a ceremony to mark the signing of four Memoranda of Understanding between Japanese and New Zealand businesses and institutions, in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Sept. 20, 2019. (Mainichi/Aaron Baldwin)

TOKYO -- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stressed the importance of women's participation in politics and business during an event in Tokyo on Sept. 20 as part of her first official trip to Japan as prime minister.

"Ultimately women's participation in leadership and politics and business is good for the economy; it's good for business," Ardern told over 200 participants at a business luncheon co-hosted by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the Japan New Zealand Business Council.

Her comments came a day after she met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who hailed her as a role model for women across the globe by engaging in child rearing while serving as prime minister.

"As you all well know, 'Abenomics' includes a major program to support more women into the workforce including through flexible work conditions and measures to encourage women to return to work following time out for childbirth," Arden told participants at the event. "It's increasingly been an area I've been asked about a lot," she added with a smile.

Ardern, 39, earlier gained global attention after giving birth to a child in June 2018 while in office, and bringing her daughter to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"I do my best to make politics look a little more appealing than perhaps it is, but we have work we need to do," Arden said. She noted that New Zealand was supporting Japan's efforts to increase the number of women entering agriculture, with training and experience in New Zealand for young women.

"I know we can and will do more together in that area," she said. Arden added that it was important for New Zealand and Japan to reinforce their friendship and common interests.

Arden's visit coincides with Japan's hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which kicked off on Sept. 20.

"Japan's hosting of major sporting events in the next three years is an incredibly exciting platform to increase our people-to-people connections -- not just the All Blacks and the Brave Blossoms, but beyond that as well," she remarked. "They are bringing our nations together; they are bringing our people together; they are bringing our businesses together in partnership."

After speaking at the business luncheon, Arden attended a ceremony to mark the signing of four Memoranda of Understanding between Japanese and New Zealand businesses and institutions extending into research and development.

Japan's is New Zealand's fourth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade reaching NZ$8.8 billion for the year ended June 2019.

Besides cooperation through the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership that both Japan and New Zealand have signed, Ardern said New Zealand was looking to strengthen a strategic cooperative partnership, including a joint study toward an information-sharing agreement.

She added the two countries were also working together on the increasing challenge of cybersecurity, and implementing the Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate terrorism and violent extremism online following a gunman's deadly attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in March 2019.

Arden also touched on the cultural similarities Japan and New Zealand share, including their culture of hospitality.

"I believe they call it omotenashi here. We call it manaakitanga," she said, referring to the Maori word for hospitality, kindness and generosity. "The value we hold in our people and the cultural approach we have -- that is where our strength will lie as New Zealand and Japan continue to work together."

(By Aaron Baldwin, Staff Writer)

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