National’s Gerry Brownlee had a free hit on Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, whom he sees as missing in action as China makes its moves to become a dominant power in the Pacific. These moves – potentially – pose a security threat to Australia and New Zealand.
While foreign affairs experts are expressing alarm and calling on the government to urgently repair NZ’s run-down defences, specifically equipping our army with missiles and drones, there is silence from both Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare.
Brownlie says Mahuta
“….needs to front up and explain what she’ll be doing to salvage New Zealand’s relationship with the Pacific.
“Last week, we heard that China is seeking a sweeping agreement with ten Pacific Island countries, covering everything from national security to climate change and education. Three countries have already signed up or indicated their support; the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Samoa.
“Since this news, the US’ top official for the Indo-Pacific has been on the phone to the Fijian Prime Minister, and the Australian Foreign Minister flew to Fiji within days of her appointment to reiterate Australia’s position as a ready and willing partner.
“While our traditional partners are out engaging with the region and demonstrating their ability to meet all the needs of the Pacific, Minister Mahuta and this Government have gone radio silent. No media, no visible engagement, not even a tweet.”
Brownlie said it was deeply concerning that our Pacific neighbours were seriously considering, and even participating in, such a far-reaching agreement with China.
Mahuta must urgently provide a plan for the Government’s response and prevent our neighbours looking elsewhere to have their needs met, he said.
Point of Order wonders whether Mahuta is waiting for a lead from her boss, who is now in Washington for a long-awaited parley with President Joe Biden.
That meeting has taken on a new significance in the wake of China’s latest manoeuvres in the Pacific, although strangely there has been no comment reported from NZ’s leader on whether the China threat has become top of the agenda.
The accompanying press corps have been so besotted with Jacinda Ardern’s remarkable popularity in the US, as they see it, that security issues seem to be overlooked.
Yet NZ now needs the USA’s protective umbrella as never before in the modern era.
For long enough, NZ has been seeking to re-engage with the US after – in effect – being expelled from Anzus following the adoption of a nuclear-free policy by the Labour government led by David Lange back in the 1980s.
The previous National government led by John Key strived to revitalise the NZ-US relationship and, while Barack Obama was in the White House, it became warm enough for US warships to resume visiting NZ ports. But there has been little movement on reviving NZ’s membership of ANZUS.
Now NZ is confronted by the prospect of China’s military might being extended to bases in the Pacific.
Point of Order believes Joe Biden – who only last week was seeking to strengthen the US framework of Indo-Pacific alliances – is acutely aware of the threat emerging in the Pacific and could be willing to entertain any initiative proposed by NZ. But if the Ardern government has one in mind it does not seem to have briefed any of the journalists in the PM’s party.
In any case it might be drawing a long bow to suggest a Labour government would want to shelter under the US nuclear umbrella.
But the hard fact is this country stands virtually defenceless. Its only ally is Australia.
May we hope that Biden would give the same commitment to NZ as he did last week in Tokyo to defend Taiwan against any attack?
That would be a real diplomatic triumph for Ardern.