New Zealand to Boost Defense Capability as China Eyes Pacific

New Zealand said it will invest in a “combat-capable” defense force and protect its interests in the Pacific as China seeks more influence in region.

(Bloomberg) — New Zealand said it will invest in a “combat-capable” defense force and protect its interests in the Pacific as China seeks more influence in region.

Releasing policy documents Friday in Wellington that set out the government’s new defense goals and strategies, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Defence Minister Andrew Little said New Zealand is facing more geostrategic challenges than it has in decades. 

They include climate change, terrorism, cyberattacks, disinformation, “and competition in our region which, up until recently, we thought was protected by its remoteness,” they said.

New Zealand will act “early and deliberately in pursuing and protecting our defense interests, particularly in — and for — the Pacific,” Little said. 

“We will strengthen understanding in and of our region, including by amplifying Pacific voices in the world,” he said. “We will enhance our many partnerships, particularly with our sole formal military ally, Australia, and the Pacific Islands countries who are more family than just neighbors.”

New Zealand is trying not to antagonize China, its largest trading partner, but is wary of Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific. 

In April last year, China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands. Since then, the US has become more proactive in the Pacific while New Zealand and Australia have worked to shore up their relationships in the region.  

While neither Hipkins nor Little named China on Friday, the Defence Policy and Strategy Statement they released does.

‘Assertive’ China

It notes that the relationship with China is significant for New Zealand and says cooperation will be essential in addressing global challenges. At the same time, it says Beijing’s “assertive pursuit of its strategic objectives” is the major driver for the new era of strategic competition among states.

“Over recent years, the Pacific has become increasingly significant as a theater for strategic competition,” it says. “The Chinese government in particular has sought to grow its political, economic, and security influence in the Pacific at the expense of more traditional partners such as New Zealand and Australia.”

The documents released Friday are an overview of New Zealand’s defense and national security strategy and don’t contain spending plans. Hipkins said one of the areas of focus for the government will be “investing in a combat-capable defense force,” without providing details.

“These plans represent an important step in how we are protecting our national security and advancing our national interests in a more contested and more difficult world,” he said. “The domestic and international security environment has changed and our preparedness needs to change too – to be clear-eyed on risks and to put in place the right capabilities to be effective.”

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