Politics

Peters confirms China concerns over defence paper

China has registered its displeasure with New Zealand’s newfound hard line on the Asian superpower, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has confirmed.

However, Peters has disputed suggestions the Government’s new defence policy represents a change of tack, claiming there was “no difference” between the comments he has made in the past about China and those advanced by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

The Strategic Defence Policy Statement, released last week, raised eyebrows among foreign policy experts with its seemingly newfound hawkishness on “an increasingly confident China”.

“Both domestically and as a basis for international engagement, China holds views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand,” the document said.

China’s alternative development model, “a liberalising economy absent liberal democracy”, had challenged conventional thinking and allowed it to assert its interests more confidently as it sought a larger global leadership role.

The report mentioned China’s expanded military presence in disputed areas of maritime Asia, saying the country had “determined not to engage with an international tribunal ruling on the status of sovereignty claims”.

“I’ve talked about New Zealand’s concern as to the militarisation of the South China Sea and there’s only one party that’s responsible for that - I’m sure you can join the dots."

Speaking to media on Monday afternoon, Peters confirmed the Chinese Government had “made clear to our ambassador in Beijing their concerns about [the paper], as their ambassador here has made her concerns known...to [MFAT]”.

"That's not unusual. We get all sorts of offshore interests expressing their views via their ambassador or high commissioners in this country."

However, Peters said he saw no difference between Mark’s comments and what he himself had said in the past, “and I’ve been saying it for a long time”.

While Peters has declined to cite China by name in the past when talking about competition for influence in the Pacific, he denied he had shied away from mentioning the country.

“I’ve talked about New Zealand’s concern as to the militarisation of the South China Sea and there’s only one party that’s responsible for that - I’m sure you can join the dots."

The Government’s job was “not to make people happy”, but to be “a responsible international citizen”, he said.

“We have not left out being honest and straight up and upfront with countries no matter which country that is...that’s been our independent foreign policy but with a new hue at the moment, in the sense of being far more candid and far more honest about it rather than pulling all our punches.”

"It doesn't matter whether it's China, the US or Australia: New Zealand always has a constructive relationship and is upfront with them, and it's not clear that's the case at the moment even if Mr Peters thinks he is being clear."

National foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay said the Government needed to be clear to the New Zealand public about its stance on China.

"The relationship is far too important to be left to chance or interpretation of the odd press conference or speech, and I'm not sure a defence paper is the best way to send messages to some of the key trading partners....

"It doesn't matter whether it's China, the US or Australia: New Zealand always has a constructive relationship and is upfront with them, and it's not clear that's the case at the moment even if Mr Peters thinks he is being clear."

McClay said differences between the coalition partners when it came to China had already been exposed, with Peters more critical while Labour had been trying to calm the situation.

It was important there were no misunderstandings given discussions on an upgrade of the China FTA that were underway, he said.

"Now that doesn't mean you do just whatever a trading partner wants for a trade deal, we certainly didn't previously and I wouldn't expect this government would either, but ultimately it's not clear what the Government's position is."

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