New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters has again hinted the Ardern government may exit China’s One Belt One Road initiative as Wellington “resets” its strategic focus to the Pacific.
With Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern beginning her first trip across the region today, Peters told Television New Zealand’s Q & A show the Pacific was where New Zealand mattered and could do most.
But, alluding to China’s influence, he said a number of countries had been intervening in the Pacific in ways that were “not helpful”.
“Our job is to ensure that the engagement of other countries in the Pacific is for the interests of the Pacific and the security and prosperity of the neighbourhood,” he said.
Peters said the previous government had been too hasty to sign up to China’s One Belt One Road initiative, with the implications for New Zealand unclear.
His coalition government would instead move slower in relation to the deal.
‘Shifting the dial’
“It’s a case of shifting the dial, it’s a case of having our eyes wide open, it’s a Pacific reset in circumstances where we must do far better,” he said.
“Our aid, for example, is on the decline, to go down to 0.21 (per cent of gross domestic product) from 0.30 (per cent) just eight years ago.”
He said low aid levels from New Zealand would not “stack up against countries with a big cheque book”, who were not always acting in the Pacific’s interest.
Fresh from a diplomatic trip across the Tasman, Ardern departs for Samoa today on the first leg of her first annual Pacific Mission.
She and a team of politicians, representatives from charities and Pasifika community leaders will then travel to Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands during the week, engaging in diplomacy and taking in the local hospitality.
Ardern on Friday said there was a range of issues facing the Pacific, including climate change, resource use and globalisation.
New Zealand and Australia’s role was to “amplify the voice of our Pacific neighbours and do so in partnership with them”, she said.
This year’s Pacific Mission will also take particular note of the recovery of Tonga and Samoa after Cyclone Gita in February.