WELLINGTON – New Zealand’s defence forces warned on Wednesday of the security threat from an increasingly powerful China as it assertively pursues its interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Growing strategic competition between China, which is New Zealand’s biggest trading partner, the United States and other powers will also boost potential for confrontation and conflict in the region, a defence assessment report said.
“New Zealand faces a world in which strategic competition is increasingly the background for states’ relationships,” the report said, adding that China’s rise was the major driver of such competition.
Even in the absence of open conflict, strategic competition would play out across arenas from space to cyber space in ways that will threaten New Zealand’s security, said the report, which is made every five years.
“This is true of both the wider Indo-Pacific and New Zealand’s immediate region.”
New Zealand has publicly expressed its concern over developments such as the building and militarisation of features in the South China Sea, the report added.
One of the biggest possible threats New Zealand could face would be the setting-up of a military base or dual-use facility in the Pacific by a state that did not share its values and security interests, the report said.
China has drawn up plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on one of Kiribati’s remote islands to revive a site that hosted military aircraft during World War Two.
New Zealand relies on its Western allies, including neighbouring Australia, for its security needs. U.S. President Joe Biden has signalled a renewed commitment to bolster his country’s influence in the Indo-Pacific.
“Washington’s delivery on this commitment, over both short and longer terms, will be important in determining the future for this region, including New Zealand’s own neighbourhood,” the report added.