Chinese ambassador says statement between New Zealand and US was raised at Nanaia Mahuta meeting after minister dodged questions

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A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) reading of the meeting makes no mention of the joint statement. Instead, he says the meeting “provided a useful opportunity to discuss Aotearoa New Zealand’s contemporary relationship with China” as the two countries celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations.

“The Minister stressed the importance of maintaining an open and constructive dialogue both in areas of cooperation and in areas of divergence. In this regard, the Minister referred to the foreign policy of Aotearoa New Zealand based on values, which placed a strong emphasis on open democracy, human relations, rights and international rules and standards.

The couple also “exchanged views on regional partners”, including the challenges of climate change and economic resilience facing the Pacific.

“The Minister took the opportunity to reiterate Aotearoa New Zealand’s concerns over the China-Solomon Islands security cooperation agreement and stressed that discussions on regional security issues were better carried out through existing regional institutions.”

Concerns over China’s attempts to increase its influence in the Pacific have been waning for some time.

A defense assessment released by New Zealand in December said that China is the “main driver of geopolitical change” in the world and that the country “sees an increased presence in the Pacific as part of its natural progression towards its global goals.

The signing of the China-Solomon security agreement has renewed focus on the issue, as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has spent the past week visiting a number of Pacific island countries in the purpose of guaranteeing security and economic agreements. But the nations ended up rejecting a regional agreement.

Mahuta has been criticized by the opposition for not currently being in the Pacific as her Australian counterpart. The minister, however, said she was in communication with Pacific leaders and would visit the Solomons as soon as schedules permitted.

The government cited the deployment of Defense Force personnel to Honiara after the November Troubles as an example of New Zealand’s commitment to the Solomons. Mahuta spoke with the Solomon Islands Foreign Minister last week and confirmed an extension of this deployment.

Wang Xiaolong, the ambassador, warned New Zealand earlier this week against joining “exclusive circles” and said branding New Zealand as a “green, clean, open country and friendly” could not be “taken for granted”. Some interpreted this as a veiled threat to trade access.

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