New Zealand is developing its own maritime security “work plans” with the Solomon Islands, its defense minister has said, months after announcing China’s defense pact with the Pacific nation.
New Zealand Minister Peeni Henare said in a Newsroom interview published on Tuesday that the two countries had begun discussions on a maritime security-focused work plan, following his meeting with Solomon Islands National Security Minister Anthony Veke, this weekend.
“I won’t go into the details of the work plan, but it’s a positive sign, and they have work to do now to follow up on that particular work,” he said. Henare said maritime security was a top priority for his Solomon Islands counterpart. “That was the number one theme of our conversation, so I said, ‘OK, how do we help?’, and that was creating the workbench that I just described.”
The deal, though described by Henare as a “little blueprint,” is another signal of heightened security interests in the Pacific arena. Following China’s pact with the Solomon Islands in March and news that Beijing was seeking a regional security deal with 10 other countries, other allies – particularly the United States and Australia – have stepped up their efforts. diplomatic efforts in the region.
In early June, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta told the Guardian that New Zealand’s foreign policy remained essentially unchanged despite “the more assertive agenda of [China] to the Pacific,” she said. New Zealand, she said, “does not need to be reactive to any other program from another country”.
New Zealand already has long-standing agreements in the Pacific, including the Biketawa Declaration, which coordinates regional responses to security crises and natural disasters.
Henare, who was attending the Shangri-La Dialogue – an Asian security summit – also spoke with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, who raised concerns that New Zealand moves closer to the position of the United States and Australia, Newsroom reported.
Henare said: “I made it clear that the only way for us to continue to have good discussions, meaningful discussions, is if there is trust, transparency and openness. I said, ‘My door is always open to talk’ because it’s important that they hear our point of view and, where possible, pass on some of the messages and feedback that I receive from our island family from Peaceful.”
The Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s Office and Henare’s office were asked to comment.
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