NZ defence strategy notes China's human rights record but Minister Mark not worried about causing offence

New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark says he's unconcerned about how China will react to criticism of its track record on human rights and freedom of information in the government's Strategic Defence Policy Statement presented today.

"There's nothing in here we haven't discussed (with China)," he told journalists after presenting the strategy. "The response I had in a direct one-to-one bilateral was exactly as I expected. They acknowledge our position, we acknowledge theirs. We respect each other," he said. Mark recently attended the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and said he likely spent more time with his Chinese counterpart than with most of the other defence ministers who attended.

New Zealand's defence policy report said "China is deeply integrated into the rules-based order" but as it has "integrated into the international order, it has not consistently adopted the governance and values championed by the order's traditional leaders." Among other things, China holds views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand, it said.

Mark said New Zealand still opposes China's moves in the South China Sea, where it has declared an air defence identification zone in disputed areas and landed several long-range bombers on the artificial islands built there.

"New Zealand values and will stand firm on its right to navigate international waters openly and freely. We rely on open trade routes, be they maritime, be they aviation or be they through connectivity and data links," he said.

"We have an obligation if we are to protect our economy if we are to remain a prosperous nation, to ensure that we have the freedom of movement and the freedom to trade and the freedom to transmit through those means."

He underscored that the policy statement is a government policy that identifies the risks and opportunities New Zealand faces.

China was still a "valued and important part of the New Zealand economy" but there were "some things that are not conducive to peace and stability, that raise the opportunity for miscalculations that are unhelpful," Mark said.

Specifically, he said "the circumstances that some of our Pacific Island nations find themselves in create opportunities for the other players to take advantage" and "there are issues with financial loans that bring with them - down the line - potentially other obligations."

An example of that can be seen in the International Monetary Fund's Article IV consultation on Tuvalu released today noting the Pacific Island's economy is "highly susceptible to external shocks, especially to climate change effects and uncertainties stemming from volatile fishing revenues and reliance on grants".

"China is just one part of this defence policy," he said.

The document said that Russia, among other nations, has also integrated into the rule-based order "while advocating values and views not aligned to those of the traditional leaders of the international rules-based order." It notes that Russia "has attempted to discredit Western democracy by challenging its 'internal coherence,' leveraging information operation and exploiting existing fissures within Western societies."