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New Zealand says Pacific islanders are free to make their own judgments about China ties

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English - New Zealand's Minister of Defence, Peeni Henare, stated on Saturday that Pacific island nations are f...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English - New Zealand's Minister of Defence, Peeni Henare, stated on Saturday that Pacific island nations are free to make their own decisions on cooperation with China, despite Beijing's efforts to strengthen military ties with the strategically significant region.

In April, China inked a security treaty with the Solomon Islands, scaring the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, which fear an increase in Beijing's military presence.

Beijing has stated that it has no plans to create a military post in the Solomon Islands and that its objective is to expand security cooperation with island nations in the Pacific.

Henare told Reuters that New Zealand respects the sovereignty of those nations and that it is not in anyone's best interests to attempt to coerce a particular result.

"Our duty is to support them and ensure they make sound judgments for themselves," Henare told Reuters on the sidelines of Asia's premier defence conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue.

"We shall continue to adhere to this approach.... We cannot be authoritarian."

This week, Henare met with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe at a security forum in Singapore, where he reaffirmed the importance of tPacific islands' independence.

"I made it abundantly clear that we embrace independence, that we support sovereign nations and states, such as the numerous ones in the Pacific," he said.

"In our discussions with them, they insisted that they... come in peace and that they seek security, sustainability, and prosperity across the Pacific," he continued.

The Solomon Islands and Fiji sent delegates to the summit and were slated to speak during the weekend's sessions.

President of the United States Joe Biden and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern both stated last month that any sustained Chinese military deployment in the Pacific islands would represent a threat to regional security.

The United States and its allies are concerned that China's stronger connections with Pacific islands may duplicate Beijing's tactics in the South China Sea, where it has steadily increased its military footprint over the past several years.

China has begun modernising the main naval facility in Cambodia, it was revealed last week, the latest indication of its military development in the area.

Henare stated that "open discussion" was essential for managing China's security relations.

"It was no accident that I met with China to ensure that we can hear each other out and communicate directly," he stated.

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