Ardern defends NZ's Pacific diplomacy

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jacinda Ardern has launched a strident defence of New Zealand's engagement in the Pacific, following China's sweep across the region.

The New Zealand prime minister is back in parliament on Tuesday for the first time in four weeks, following a bout of COVID-19 and a long visit to the United States.

In that time, much of NZ's political debate has focused on the question that preoccupied Australia during the federal election: were diplomats asleep to China's desire to grow influence across the blue continent?

After all, Australian foreign minister Penny Wong - speaking at the time as opposition spokeswoman - labelled the Solomon Islands-China security tie-up as Australia's worst foreign policy failure since World War II.

Ms Ardern believes not, saying she respected the autonomy of Pacific nations to forge their own paths.

"Some of the commentary we've seen does a disservice to the Pacific," Ms Ardern said.

"These are sovereign nations who have had relationships with China that span many years, as New Zealand does.

"The idea that they are somehow unable to determine their own relationships with China, and they'd be dictated or persuaded by visits from New Zealand and Australia, sits totally against our view."

Ms Ardern insisted COVID-enforced border controls, and not sluggishness, was the reason Kiwi ministers had not travelled further than Fiji since 2020.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ms Ardern was uncharacteristically ruffled in an interview on TV program AM, interrupting the interviewer to declare her "frustration" with questions.

"I feel quite strongly about this," she insisted, saying she and her ministers had clocked up more than 100 engagements, mostly online, with the Pacific in the last 18 months.

"The idea of whether or not you have visited during border controls, that is a measure of your relationship, is wrong.

"We are of the Pacific. They are more than just our friends. They are our family."

Ms Ardern also pointed to an increase of 45 per cent in aid to the region over the coming three years.

The prime minister and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta say they have no issue with China's engagement in the Pacific, and welcome economic and investment deals.

However, New Zealand is concerned about possible militarisation, labelling the Solomons agreement "gravely concerning", and cautioning against similar deals - such as the rejected region-wide pact tabled by China.

Ms Mahuta said she wanted Pacific nations to come together and agree on a path forward, and she "anticipated" Australia wanted the same thing.

"New Zealand has continually endorsed that the Pacific Islands Forum is the right forum to discuss issues of regional security," she said.

"The Pacific Islands Forum has been pushed out a couple of times ... there is an urgency to have an in-person meeting.

"We would welcome that and I intend to participate."

Ms Mahuta said she would follow Ms Wong by re-establishing face-to-face ministerial visits in the Pacific across the next month - but not with large groups of nations at a time like China.

"It was unusual, an unusual step to do eight countries all at once," she said.

"As borders open, as our hosts allow, we can not only visit with them, but (can) discuss the issues that are important: climate change, economic resilience and things like that."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting