As Australia and its allies continue to warily watch China's growing influence campaign in the Pacific, New Zealand has inched closer to joining the AUKUS pact and working towards more "seamless" military operations with Australia.
Australian officials will reportedly soon travel to New Zealand to brief their counterparts on developments relating to "pillar two" of the military technology-sharing agreement which was developed during the Morrison government.
In meetings in Melbourne Thursday, dubbed the inaugural meeting of trans-Tasman foreign and defence ministers, the two countries resolved to produce "defence forces which are seamless," more war-gaming and even joint military purchases.
"We are better together than we are apart," New Zealand Defence Minister Judith Collins said.
The headline outcome from the gathering was that Australia will send a delegation to New Zealand to brief the Kiwis on its plan to develop advanced military technologies with the US and UK with expectations New Zealand will soon join the fold.
Beyond those talks, ministers revealed a security work program towards more general military integration.
ANZAC ties tighten
Australia Defence Minister Richard Marles said there would be"increasing integration between our military forces, including through common capability, exchanges of senior military officers and increased participation in war-fighting exercises".
Mr Marles said the goal was to "construct two defence forces which are seamless" and Ms Collins said that would extend to buying similar "assets and systems".
"For the first time, we're looking to how we can work together when it comes to procurement," she said. "Everything to do with defence purchases is expensive.
"What we can't afford to do is to go off and commit to large purchases without making sure it's going to fit in with our ally.
"(We will) make sure that when Australia is undertaking its purchases, (we will ask) 'is it something we should be doing at the same time?'."
The two countries also resolved to continue the "2+2" meetings, and want a Five Eyes defence ministers meeting, bringing together Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, this year.
Move likely to rankle Beijing
The enhanced co-operation risks drawing China's ire. Beijing has made plain its disdain for the AUKUS agreement, which is in essence a strategic counterbalance to China's might in the Asia-Pacific region.
Last year, China's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the alliance was "walking further and further down the path of error and danger" and made the world less safe.
Winston Peters, in his third stint as New Zealand's foreign minister, said he expected his counterparts in Beijing to respect his country's move.
"China understands countries - because they practise it themselves - when they look after their national interest and their citizens, and that's what we're doing," he said.
Australian Associated Press
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