New Zealand in talks over partial membership of Aukus

New Zealand is in talks for potentially joining the non-nuclear section of the Aukus tripartite security partnership, defence minister Andrew Little said on Tuesday.

The Pacific country has been asked whether it wants to partake in the second pillar of the defence pact signed between Australia, Britain and the US.

“We have been offered the opportunity to talk about whether we could, or wish to, participate in the pillar-two aspect of it,” Mr Little said, according to Bloomberg.

“I’ve indicated we will be willing to explore it, and that’s as far as that has gone.”

Tuesday’s statement, however, has come after New Zealand’s foreign minister visited Beijing last week. Nanaia Mahuta said during her visit that the Chinese government had stated its concerns over the security deal.

“They acknowledged our position on the matter. We’re not a part of those arrangements,” Ms Mahuta said.

Beijing has vehemently criticised the defence pact, arguing that it poses “serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines international non-proliferation system, fuels arms races and hurts peace and stability”.

The agreement was signed by the three countries in 2021 in an effort to counter China’s increasing military assertiveness in the Pacific. Under the deal, Australia will get its first nuclear-powered submarines.

It will also provide the Royal Navy with replacements for its seven Astute submarines, potentially doubling the size of the fleet of its attack boats.

New Zealand has asserted it has no intention of becoming a full member of the pact due to its nuclear-free policy. Aukus membership “could not compromise our legal obligations and our moral commitment to nuclear-free,” the defence minister said.

“[Membership] would be about the kind of technology... needed to protect defence personnel,” he said. “Usually domain awareness, so surveillance technology, and radio technology that allows us to do that.”

The second pillar of the pact covers the sharing of advanced military technologies and artificial intelligence.

Earlier this month, Mr Little met White House national security council co-ordinator Kurt Campbell, following which the US official said Washington thought there was potential for New Zealand to join non-nuclear aspects of the Aukus pact.

“I will say, we’ve been gratified by how many countries want to join with us to work with cutting-edge technologies like in the cyber arena, hypersonics, you can go down a long list and it’s great to hear that New Zealand is interested,” Mr Campbell said.