WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand on Tuesday revealed how it plans to lift its defense capabilities in the Pacific to protect its interest but stayed clear of naming China, whose growing influence in the region has raised concerns, as a reason.
Last year, New Zealand’s defense report warned China’s rising influence in the South Pacific could undermine regional stability, drawing a complaint from the Asian giant.
It released a defense capability plan earlier this year prioritizing operations in the Pacific to the highest level.
The latest report by the defense ministry does not mention of China, but says New Zealand will have to act in new ways and at new levels to protect its interest and to tackle regional issues of climate change, transnational crime and geopolitical competition.
“New Zealand Defense aims to be a reliable and valued defense and security partner and to be present to maximum effect,” said the report.
“We have an imperative to continue to safeguard New Zealand and Pacific security interests, and to be present — to be a source of stability and a reliable, valued partner, as our region undergoes change and adapts to new realities,” it said.
The report warned that the Pacific is confronting a series of complex disrupters like climate change, transnational organized crime and resource competition, as well as an increasing presence of external actors that is raising the geostrategic competition.
It said New Zealand would work with “likeminded” partners to enhance security, stability and resilience in the region.
The report discusses humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions associated with climate change being a priority.
New Zealand, earlier this year, selected Lockheed Martin Corp’s C-130J Super Hercules as the preferred replacement for five aging C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, which is useful for airlift missions.
It also bought four Boeing P-8A Poseidon planes last year. The report discussed plans for a dedicated Southern Ocean patrol vessel in 2020 and plans for smaller crewed aircraft, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems and satellites, for air surveillance capabilities.
South Pacific islands have emerged as a strategic priority as global powers seek influence over the vast swaths of resource-rich ocean between the Americas and Asia.
China in recent years has significantly increased its political and economic influence among South Pacific nations that have traditionally been strongholds of the United States and its regional allies Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand has had a rocky relationship with its top trading partner China in recent years, after it criticized Beijing’s lending to South Pacific islands, and its security agency blocked Chinese tech giant Huawei from the country’s first 5G network.
Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry