‘We don’t need to be reactive’: New Zealand keeps faith in foreign policy in face of China’s Pacific push | China
NOTNew Zealand’s foreign minister has defended herself against accusations of appeasement following China’s dramatic push for greater influence in the Pacific region, saying New Zealand “doesn’t need to be responsive to any other program from another country”.
Immediately after China’s attempt to sign a sweeping regional security deal with 10 Pacific island countries that seemed to catch the West off guard, and its announcement of bilateral agreements with the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Kiribati, the government was criticized by former diplomats and opposition politicians that he lacked in combat.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta is expected to visit in person, some have said, following in the footsteps of her Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, who undertook several trips just days after being sworn in, in a bid to counter a major diplomatic tour In the region. by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mahuta argued that New Zealand did not need to react to changing dynamics in the region.
Opposition critics, she said, “seem a bit frantic as to where we should go, that we should be on the trail of this minister or this minister – and in fact, this that’s not how we operate in New Zealand,” she said. “We don’t need to be reactive to any other program from another country.”
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee has accused the government of “dropping the ball” in the Pacific, and has repeatedly said that Mahuta should have followed his Chinese and Australian counterparts, but Mahuta has dismissed his claim, saying Wong was going on the journey as a new stranger. minister forges new relationships.
“I don’t think I need to be reactive or set my schedule of visits based on other foreign ministers and what they’re doing,” she said. “Because the conversation we have in the Pacific is based on the value we bring to a warm and lasting relationship.”
She said she had her “own schedule and agenda” for visiting the Pacific, and many Pacific countries still had closed borders due to Covid.
Mahuta visited Fiji in March, on her first trip to the region since the pandemic began. In the weeks following the announcement of Solomon’s deal with China, she had several bilateral Zoom meetings with Pacific leaders, but did not book any new in-person travel.
China’s “stronger agenda”
Mahuta said it was clear China was increasing its muscle in the region. “Undoubtedly, the signal in terms of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s rapid succession of visits signals a more assertive agenda on their part towards the Pacific,” she said.
“We have calibrated our change, understanding that the Pacific is a contested space – we have already anticipated greater interest in the Pacific,” she said, citing recent travels by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Wang.
When asked, however, whether the push from China and the United States in recent months has resulted in a change or reassessment of New Zealand’s foreign policy approach, Mahuta said that ‘She remained essentially unchanged from those she outlined for Pacific relations in November 2021 – building economic resilience, recovering from the pandemic and responding to the climate crisis.
“With heightened interest from the Pacific superpowers, this is what I say to you: the focus must be on Pacific resilience…and in order to address the important and substantial issue of climate change and its impact on the Pacific. , we need to look at the issue of economic resilience, the level of vulnerability, and we need to look at over-indebtedness.
New Zealand sends almost 60% of its total aid budget to the Pacific, amounting to NZ$590 million ($387 million) in 2021/22, up from $524 million the previous year. The government allocated $75 million to support Pacific island nations facing “fiscal crises” in the 2022 budget, in addition to $325 million in Covid-19 economic support over the past two years.
Mahuta’s position echoes that of a number of Pacific leaders, who have argued that geopolitical maneuvering is far from the most pressing issue they face.
This week, Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama lashed out at those engaged in ‘geopolitical pointing’, which ‘means less than a little to anyone whose community is slipping under rising seas, whose job has been lost to a coronavirus pandemic or whose family is impacted by rapidly rising commodity prices.
While New Zealand has been more cautious than Australia in its criticism of China’s Pacific push, it has nonetheless drawn Beijing’s ire, particularly for a joint statement that followed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s meeting. with Joe Biden.
“The hype about the relevant issues in the joint statement by the United States and New Zealand is driven by ulterior motives aimed at creating disinformation, attacking and discrediting China,” the doorman said on Wednesday. -Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian. “The United States has military bases around the world, but it expresses concerns about normal security cooperation with other countries.”
Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong said on Friday he had met with Mahuta and “reiterated China’s position on the recent US-New Zealand joint statement, and more importantly compared the notes on how China and New Zealand could steer bilateral relations in the right direction.” leadership for the benefit of both parties.
On the nature of these conversations, Mahuta would not be drawn: “A range of issues were discussed at a broad level. It was a very short meeting,” she said. “The bilateral talks are mainly for our consideration.”
Asked what New Zealand had communicated to China about the draft Pacific regional agreement at that meeting, she said: “I understand that the visit [by Wang Yi to the Pacific] failed to reach consensus on a regional agreement. So there’s not much to discuss there.