US seeks to expand ties with New Zealand amid China fears

Chinese leader Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping Chinese leader Xi Jinping

The commander of the United States military in the Pacific has said he wants to expand and strengthen its ties with New Zealand.

The visit to Wellington by Admiral John Aquilino, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, comes as the US is looking to increase its presence in the region amid concerns over China’s growing ambitions in the Pacific.

They include most recently the Solomon Islands, where the US and several Pacific nations expressed concern about a security pact the Solomons signed with China in April, which many fear could result in a military build-up in the region.

Admiral Aquilino was greeted with a traditional Maori welcome ceremony and laid a wreath at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. He spoke briefly to reporters ahead of meetings with top New Zealand defence force and government officials.

“Our partnership runs very deep,” Admiral Aquilino said. “We are doing many things together to continue to ensure peace and prosperity for both of our nations and for all the nations in the region.”

He said he wanted to identify new areas where the US could work with New Zealand. He added the leadership of Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific was “critically important”.

“The one thing you will never hear out of me is big or small. This is a partnership,” Admiral Aquilino said. “All nations deliver those things that they can deliver.”

He said the US understood the security implications of climate change in Pacific island nations, including for food security and water security, and the importance for island nations to be able to fish in exclusive zones.

“The United States has been a Pacific nation our entire life. We will continue to operate in the Pacific no matter what else you might hear,” he said.

Air Marshal Kevin Short, chief of New Zealand’s defence force, said the relationship with the US had been strong for decades, and it regularly interacts with US forces so they can both better operate in the region.