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New Zealand’s Ardern cautions against militarisation of Pacific

New Zealand’s Ardern cautions against militarisation of Pacific
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, 23 January 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/HAGEN HOPKINS / POOL)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while New Zealand welcomes more investment in the Pacific region, it doesn’t support increased militarisation and is urging nations to be transparent about their intentions. She was commenting after China said its Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be touring Pacific island nations later this week, including the Solomon Islands. The two countries formalised a security pact in April.

Ardern said the Pacific is a “contested region” and noted that the US is also seeking to engage there.

“We want cooperation in areas where we have shared concern, like climate adaptation and mitigation,” Ardern told reporters. “We want quality investment in infrastructure. We don’t want militarization. We don’t want an escalation in tension. We want peace and stability.”

Ardern spoke to reporters after meetings in New York on the first day of a trade and tourism visit to the US. She is yet to confirm a White House meeting with President Joe Biden. A recording of the news conference was published by the NZ Herald.

Asked about China’s role in the Pacific, Ardern said it is not necessarily just its presence but “the nature of that presence and the intention around it.”

Read more:
Why the Solomon Islands’ China Pact Has U.S. Riled: QuickTake
Chinese Naval Base in Solomons a ‘Red Line,’ Australia Says (3)
Solomon Islands Signs China Security Pact, Rebuffing Australia
Australia’s Spy Chiefs Head to Solomons Over China Security Deal

Draft versions of the agreement between China and the Solomon Islands appear to give scope for construction of a military base on the archipelago, although both countries deny this. China has said the pact covers maintenance of social order, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response.

“What we will question is whether or not some of those arrangements are even necessary,” said Ardern. “We have existing partnerships that New Zealand and Australia have offered. They remain and we will keep them on the table.”

Ahead of a potential White House meeting, Ardern reiterated that New Zealand will continue to be a strong advocate for the US joining the CPTPP trade pact. The Biden administration has proposed an alternative 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that includes New Zealand.

“The CPTPP is an existing framework that offers a significant amount from New Zealand’s perspective,” Ardern said. The US has “proposed an alternate framework. Our mission as a country needs to be to keep our aspirations high but also work with what’s on the table.” BM

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