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Restraint in the face of China

NEW Zealand has been quite restrained in how it has publicly approached the issue of China’s provocative territorial expansion in the South China Sea. Although Australia hasn’t been shy about taking what is being seen as a pro-America and anti-China stance, New Zealand has tried to stay neutral.

In other words, taking what is from its perspective a more practical and less idealistic position. Consider Australia’s consistent endorsement of America’s freedom of navigation operations, where heavily armed vessels and aircraft sail and fly close to disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Then there is Australia’s uncompromising approach to China’s increasing assertiveness in its 2016 Defence White Paper. From the other side of the Tasman, the most robust statement so far on the heightened tension in the South China Sea has come from New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. “A particular cause of that heightened tension has been reclamation and construction activity and deployment of military assets in disputed areas,”

McCully said in a speech at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore in March. “We regard all of these activities as unhelpful, regardless of the party responsible.” McCully said New Zealand strongly promoted a “rules-based system that employs diplomacy to support regional stability”.

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