NZ Foreign Minister defends 'lack of action' in the Pacific, says relationship is strong

The Foreign Affairs Minister is standing by her actions around China's visit to the Pacific, insisting New Zealand's relationship with the islands is in a good place.

Nanaia Mahuta has been criticised for not racing over the islands while China's Foreign Minister holds meetings with Pacific leaders, signing trade and development deals. 

“No shadow of a doubt, New Zealand’s relationship with the Pacific is strong. We’re consistent, we’re reliable, we’re respectful partners and we have engaged with the Pacific over a long period of time.”

She says New Zealand can't compete with China, but will encourage the Pacific to make their own decisions. 

“We're not flying into the Pacific with a specific agenda and saying, ‘we want you to sign up to that’, that's not our approach. 

“Certain Pacific countries, yes, have signed up to arrangements that will work for them, but there's been no regional consensus around a security relationship, that has not been achieved.”

Critics have been scathing ​of Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta's failure to front up on China's visit to the Pacific, with a draft security and policing deals in the Pacific sparking serious concerns by world leaders.

But Mahuta says China has a longstanding role as a development partner with many investments over time, and the hype is "unnecessary". 

“There are existing arrangements where we look to our closest friends and neighbours for security purposes, and also to strengthen that immediate response.

“We have expressed the view that if these arrangements led to the militarisation of Honiara, and have a regional impact, we would be concerned about that, really concerned. 

“If this bilateral arrangement has an impact on regional security, we felt that the best place to discuss these issues was at the Pacific Island Forum.”

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong rushed to Fiji last week, and Pacific Minister Aupito William Sio, also the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, is on his way to Fiji today to meet with Pacific Marine Ministers. 

Massey University's senior lecturer in Defence and Security Studies Dr Anna Powles says New Zealand needs to have face-to-face interactions to build trust and relations with its regional partners.

“When Minister Mahuta became Foreign Minister, she launched the Pacific Resilience approach, the big part of that is relationships, and to build that trust we do need to see Minister Mahuta in the Pacific if New Zealand is to have the type of relationship that it claims.”

Mahuta is planning to visit the Pacific in the next few weeks, which is where she says matters of regional security should be discussed. 

“I've never said I've not wanted to visit, because I've been to Fiji at the first available opportunity to go there.

“I've signalled with Minister Manele for the Solomons that it would be good for us to meet in person, and also indicated to Prime Minister Mark Brown I’m keen to go to the Cook Islands.”

She says there are some challenges in arranging schedules with her counterparts in other countries, where the Foreign Minister role is sometimes held by the country’s leader. 

“So this is not a situation where I'm not keen to travel. I've just got to make sure that I'm lining it up.”


Photo file Caption: Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta