China's Premier Li Qiang (R) and New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins (L) attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 28 June 2023. EFE/EPA FILE/JADE GAO / POOL

Indo-Pacific ‘less secure’ amid growing Chinese influence: NZ PM

Sydney, Australia, Jul 17 (EFE).- The Indo-Pacific region is becoming “more contested, less predictable and less secure” as China’s economic influence grows along with its increasing assertiveness in its foreign policy, New Zealand’s prime minister said Monday.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins speaks during the signing ceremony of the EU-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 09 July 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/JULIEN WARNAND

“China’s rise and how it seeks to exert that influence is also a major driver of the increasing strategic competition, particularly in our wider home region, the Indo-Pacific,” Chris Hipkins said during the China Business Summit held in Auckland.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Chris Hipkins attends the dinner hosted by the Lithuanian president at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, 11 July 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/TIM IRELAND

“Our region is becoming more contested, less predictable, and less secure. And that poses challenges for small countries like New Zealand that are reliant on the stability and predictability of international rules for our prosperity and security.”

Expressing concern for the worsening strategic environment and the increase in tensions in the region, particularly in places such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, Hipkins said that his country has “direct interests” in those areas and is “therefore focused on the need for tensions to be carefully managed and de-escalated in the wider interests of the region. And we look to China to play its part in this regard.”

The address by the prime minister of New Zealand, a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (along with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada), comes after he met with China’s President Xi Jinping last month in Beijing while on an official visit with a business delegation.

New Zealand, whose main trading partner is China, has increased its criticism of Beijing in recent years, especially on human rights, and has expressed concern about the stability of the Pacific amid growing Chinese influence through cooperation agreements and soft loans for infrastructure development in the region.

Alarm was raised in New Zealand, as well as the US, Australia and several Pacific island countries, with the security pact that China signed with the Solomon Islands in April 2022, which was negotiated opaquely and included the dispatch of Chinese security forces to the island nation if Honiara requires it.

Despite the strategic tensions and competition in the Pacific region, Hipkins assured that his government will continue to engage in dialogue with Beijing, cooperate in areas of common interest, “act to preserve, protect, and promote our national interests and our values” and work with other international partners.

“In this increasingly complex global environment, our relationship with China will continue to require careful management,” Hipkins said. EFE