NZ foreign minister says superpowers must listen to needs of Pacific

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (not pictured) speak to the media following a bilateral meeting, in Wellington, New Zealand, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Lucy Craymer/File Photo

By Lucy Craymer

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s foreign minister said on Thursday that the United States and China should engage with the Pacific through the Pacific Islands Forum, and work to address the needs of the region.

Nanaia Mahuta said at the New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade select committee hearing that she had conveyed to the United States that it was important for them and any other superpower to engage with the Pacific using existing systems.

She added that reflecting on unsuccessful efforts by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to turn bilateral relations into a mulitilateral agreement showed the Pacific is starting to think about how it wants to see its security interests reflected.

I think it is not “altogether comfortable with either superpower,” she said.

Although the United States has considered the Pacific its maritime backyard since World War Two, China’s influence has been increasing in recent years. Some of the Pacific nations have complained about being caught in the middle of the superpowers’ battle for influence.

The United States is holding a two-day summit with Pacific leaders that is focusing on issues such as climate change and health. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said that the U.S. and attending countries had agreed on “a declaration of partnership between the U.S. and the Pacific.”

Mahuta said she had told partners of the Blue Pacific meetingthat listening to Pacific nations and their needs is crucial.

“It’s really important that we coordinate and collaborate in key areas that can help with the Pacific achieve its priorities,” she added.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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