Asia - Pacific

Pacific is a contested space, requires aligned efforts: New Zealand's top diplomat

New Zealand, Australia express ‘concern at growing strategic competition in Pacific region’

Islamuddin Sajid and Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 16.06.2022
Pacific is a contested space, requires aligned efforts: New Zealand's top diplomat

ANKARA/ISTANBUL

The Pacific is a “contested space” and demands “aligned efforts," New Zealand’s foreign minister said on Thursday, alongside her Australian counterpart.

“We both agreed that things have changed. The Pacific is a contested space,” said Nanaia Mahuta, speaking to a news conference after holding a bilateral meeting with visiting Penny Wong in Wellington.

Mahuta stressed that New Zealand and Australia need to “work together through regional institutions to support the Pacific and their aspirations.”

Expressing their “concerns” at the “growing strategic competition” in the Pacific region, the two sides in their joint statement “acknowledged the close cooperation between Australia and New Zealand to support a stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific region amid sharper global challenges.”

“Close friendship between the two nations is more essential than ever for the security and well-being of their citizens,” the statement added.

It is Wong’s third foreign trip after being assigned as Australia’s top diplomat last month.

Mahuta said providing support to Pacific nations “will require by and large and aligned effort but it will also be our ability to broaden relationships.”

“And we have both identified that it is needed now. Things have changed. We are in a new conversation space where the Pacific priorities must be led from. And it is certainly our view that the Pacific (priorities) are key,” the New Zealand foreign minister explained.

Mahuta’s statement comes amid changing geopolitics in the region where the US is cementing its “contain” China policy while Beijing is moving forward in striking bilateral and multilateral deals.

Beijing signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands in April triggering criticism from New Zealand and Australia and their allies, including the US and Japan.

A region-wide security and trade deal that Beijing is renegotiating with 10 Pacific nations fell short of signing last month.

Washington, on the other side, has launched the Quad security alliance with Japan, Australia, and India, and announced that the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework was signed by 12 other nations and excludes China which has strongly opposed the move.

New Zealand and Australia are also part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance led by the US and which includes Canada and the UK as well.

Within weeks of the public disclosure of the maritime security deal signed between China and the Solomon Islands, New Zealand also announced that it has begun work on a similar maritime space deal with the country of hundreds of islands in the South Pacific.

Mahuta also held a virtual meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Monday who lauded New Zealand's “position and role.”

“New Zealand and China can achieve common goals through dialogue, and conduct cooperation in addressing climate change, fighting the pandemic, promoting regional development and prosperity, and other fields,” Wang told Mahuta.

China considers New Zealand "an important strategic cooperative partner, and is full of confidence in the prospects of bilateral relations," he added.

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