New Zealand ‘Seriously Concerned’ by China’s Pacific Ambitions

(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand is “seriously concerned” by China’s increased interest in the Pacific, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said.

Most Read from Bloomberg

“China has a long-standing presence in the Pacific, but we are seriously concerned by increased engagement in Pacific security sectors,” Peters said in a speech to the New Zealand China Council Friday in Wellington. “We do not want to see developments that destabilize the institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned our region’s security.”

New Zealand’s new center-right government, which took office late last year, is seeking to deepen its ties with like-minded western nations such as Australia, the US and UK amid concerns about Beijing’s growing ambitions in the Pacific. In doing so it runs the risk of antagonizing China, its biggest trading partner.

New Zealand, Australia and the US were shocked when the Solomon Islands announced in early 2022 that it had signed a security agreement with Beijing. Wellington is now exploring joining Pillar Two of the Aukus security pact between Australia, the US and UK, and has said it is also working on a new partnership with NATO.

Peters acknowledged China as a “vital economic partner” and noted the rebound in Chinese tourists and students to New Zealand now underway. But he said New Zealand will continue to share its concerns with China.

“Sometimes we do this in private, but there are also times when we communicate openly with the public and the international community about our concerns,” he said. “This is an important part of our commitment to speaking openly and transparently about the foreign policy issues and challenges that affect New Zealanders.”

Human rights was one such issue, he said. Cyber-attacks and interference efforts intended to influence, disrupt, or subvert New Zealand’s national interests was another.

“These are deeply concerning and completely unacceptable,” Peters said. “We remain vigilant to all such threats.”

Read More: New Zealand Joins US, UK in Accusing China of Cyber Attacks

Peters said New Zealand is also concerned to see stability tested in the South China Sea and growing tensions and hardening rhetoric across the Taiwan Strait.

“With great power comes great responsibility, so we think that China has a responsibility to play a constructive role to address international security challenges, encourage de-escalation, and ease tensions, such as in ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, and Israel and Hamas,” he said. “Now, we believe, is a time where China leadership and diplomacy would materially help to ease global tensions.”

Peters said New Zealand will continue to align and work with partners where this helps advance its common interests, “all the while being steadfast in our independent assessment of our national interests.”

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.