.....but it is bashful about rebuff of a Chinese request
The government’s official website – dominated today by announcements of who has been awarded King’s Birthday gongs – also carries news of a development in New Zealand’s relationship with Japan.
This sits alongside the speech which Defence Minister Andrew Little delivered to the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2023 in Singapore, in which he said New Zealand’s most recent defence assessment identified climate change and geostrategic competition as the two greatest security challenges to our place in the South Pacific.
But today I want to focus on that second challenge, increasing geostrategic competition in the Pacific and Indian Oceans regions. That issue poses significant risks of miscalculation – particularly when nuclear weapons are part of the calculus.
Little proceeded to tell his audience of international big-wigs about New Zealand’s concerns without mentioning China. Nor did he mention the United States or Australia.
But it seems he did meet China’s Defence Minister.
We learn this not from the government’s official website (which has not posted a statement on the meeting) but from Stuff:
Defence Minister Andrew Little has urged China to resume talking with the United States, and has declined a Chinese request for joint military exercises with New Zealand.
Little met Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu in Singapore on Friday, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue defence summit, where military leaders are discussing security in Asia and the growing threat of conflict between the United States and China.
The official record of what Little has said in his speech and with whom he has been meeting can be found here –
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The Defence Ministers of New Zealand and Japan have signed a statement of intent for closer defence cooperation between the two Pacific regional partners.
The statement on the signing of a statement of intent for closer defence cooperation between New Zealand and Japan says:
Andrew Little and H. E. Yasukazu Hamada met to sign the ‘Statement of Intent on Defence Cooperation in Maritime Security, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and Climate Change in the Pacific Islands Region’ at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
The statement is the culmination of more than two years of discussions including consultation with Pacific partners to ensure alignment with Pacific priorities. It means a renewed commitment to cooperation between New Zealand and Japan based on shared interests and objectives underpinned by the countries’ Strategic Cooperative Partnership.
Little described this as a significant step towards stronger defence cooperation between New Zealand and Japan, and a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Pacific region.
“As outlined in the 2021 Defence Assessment, our collective efforts to support Pacific partners are most effective when they are coherent, complementary, and appropriate for the region.
“New Zealand and Japan’s emergency response with international partners to the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in January 2022 demonstrated our mutual focus on what is important to Pacific partners. It reinforced the value in us finding opportunities to further strengthen our relationship and working together in a more coordinated and collaborative way.
“Both countries acknowledge the ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent’ being developed by the Pacific Islands Forum as a long-term strategy for the Pacific region. That strategy will be used as a guide for New Zealand and Japan to work together in support of Pacific priorities.”
The two countries now will aspire to strengthen collaboration with Pacific partners and regional institutions on priority areas of cooperation including maritime security, humanitarian and disaster relief, and climate change, Little said.
The Shangri-La meeting in Singapore was also an opportunity for New Zealand and Japan to exchange views on regional security issues.
The Statement of Intent and proposed priority areas of cooperation will be reviewed annually by defence officials.
Stuff’s Thomas Manch – not the Beehive – is our source of information about Andrew Little’s meeting with Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu, a fellow who did not want to meet his American counterpart.
Li rejected a request from United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet on the sidelines of the summit.
The refusal to meet set the tone for the three-day summit. In a sweeping keynote speech about how the region could avoid “disaster”, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese chastised China for failing to engage with the US.
Similarly, Little said he told Li directly that, as a small nation, New Zealand needed the great powers to talk to “mitigate risk”.
“We expect major powers to have points of contact and dialogue, particularly at a time when relationship or when tensions are rising in the region,” he said, in an interview.
“I doubt whether it’s just confined to the US, but they [China] are a significant player, with a large military, and they’re nuclear-armed, and it’s a region where – along with other nuclear powers here – there is rising tension.”
Little described the meeting with Li as “cordial”.
What Li thought of it is not reported, but he did not get what he sought.
Manch says Li had asked for China and New Zealand to conduct joint military exercises “to deepen the relationship”.
New Zealand and China currently hold meetings between senior defence officials (something else that has not been mentioned on the Beehive website), but it seems we balk at joint military exercises.
“We want to maintain a high-level dialogue, but for a range of reasons we’re not in a position to do training and exercises.
“Given current conditions, it’s just not the appropriate time and we should keep our relationship just at that high-level dialogue level.”
It looks like Little was careful in making commitments to provide Ukraine with further support, too:
Little said he discussed providing further monetary support for Ukraine’s fight against an ongoing Russian invasion during a meeting with the country’s foreign minister, Oleksiy Reznikov. He asked Reznikov to put a request in writing for the Government to consider.
Requiring requests to be put in writing is a good dodge. Here’s hoping the government deals with any such request with greater alacrity than it responds to some Official Information Act requests.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton