Brownlee urges China to act like a 'big' country in South China Sea
Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has used an address to China's National Defense University in Beijing to urge the North Asian giant to behave like a "big country" in the South China Sea, where its creation of islands to compete for maritime territory is causing tension with other regional powers and the United States.
"All big countries are made bigger, in every sense of the word, by recognising their strengths and confidently sharing and defusing concerns of smaller countries," he said in a speech that hailed the creation of a five-year engagement plan between the New Zealand Defence Force and the People's Liberation Army as "the first agreed between China and a Western military, demonstrating the unique nature of our relationship."
New Zealand was also the first western nation to recognise China as a market economy and to sign a free-trade agreement with China, and safe, peaceful maritime routes were crucial to New Zealand, which sends 99% of its exports by sea, he said.
"While we take no position on the various claims in the South China Sea, New Zealand opposes actions that undermine peace and erode trust," Brownlee said in a clear reference to actions such as dredging in the Spratly Islands to create new islands with military facilities.
New satellite images, reported in recent days by the defence intelligence publisher Jane's, show the recent completion of a 3000m runway.
"We are concerned that developments have outstripped regional efforts to manage tensions," said Brownlee. "We call on all claimant states to reduce tensions."
Declarations and codes of conduct were required swiftly and the outcome of international dispute settlement mechanisms had to be respected.
"Recognising these concerns and seeking dialogue in the settlement of issues is the mark of a big country," said Brownlee, who also welcomed the US foreign policy pivot to Asia and stressed New Zealand's relationships with Chinese and US defence forces were not mutually exclusive.
"We believe that the US and China want the same thing for the Asia-Pacific, peace and prosperity."