Pacific engaged on security rethink: NZ


New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has welcomed the prospect of a broader rethink of Pacific security frameworks when leaders gather in Fiji next month.

However, Mahuta says New Zealand will stand “on its own two feet” rather than work in tandem with Australia at those talks.

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) will host the region’s leaders in Fiji on 12-14 July for the first in-person meeting of heads of government since 2019.

Sharpening the significance of the meeting is China’s renewed diplomacy in the region.

In recent weeks, Beijing has inked a security deal with the Solomon Islands – worrying Australia and New Zealand – and attempted to secure support for a regional-wide deal that could see Chinese security and police stationed across the region.

Pacific nations scotched that deal, saying they wanted to consider the proposal as a group.

Those talks will now take place in Fiji, where Australia and New Zealand – both PIF members – will send delegations led by their prime ministers.

“These issues should be lifted up and the Pacific Islands Forum is the right place to discuss matters of regional stability,” Mahuta said.

Mahuta will host Australian counterpart, Penny Wong in Wellington on Thursday in key pre-PIF talks.

In an interview with AAP, Mahuta confirmed China’s recent 10-nation visit to the region had sparked discussions of a general rethink of Pacific security.

“It may well be at the Pacific Islands Forum, that we might want – based on a regional conversation – that we might want to ask ourselves whether or not the Boe and Biketawa Declarations are fit for purpose,” she said.

“Do we need to modernise them or are we talking about something altogether differently?

“Security arrangements now go beyond defence. It is about cybersecurity, data and intelligence.

“It is also about the way in which we think about our maritime regions and their vulnerability … and increasingly is about the impact of climate change and displacement of people.”

Mahuta’s comments come after a visit to Wellington by Samoan PM Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who expressed a similar view, saying she wanted PIF to “test the usefulness of the instruments that we already have in place.”

Like Australia, New Zealand expressed grave concerns at learning of the Solomons-China tie-up, but Mahuta said Wellington had softened its view after talking with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

“We have since had an assurance from PM Sogavare that the arrangements will not lead to the militarisation of Honiara,” she said.

“It’s an undertaking that we believe he should (be) accountable for.”

Australia and New Zealand are the powerhouses of the region, and are expected to work closely together at the PIF summit.

Mahuta bristled at the suggestion recently articulated by Anthony Albanese that the two countries were in “lockstep” on the Pacific.

“We will stand on our own two feet in terms of our comments in relation to regional challenges,” she said.

“I don’t want to compare ourselves with anyone else.

“We do take a different approach to the Pacific, we’ve got the largest diaspora communities of Pacific peoples here in New Zealand who make a strong contribution to the fabric of (New Zealand).

“We believe we can be relied upon as a partner and we want to support the aspirations of the Pacific so we have a different approach, and we’re okay about that,” she said.