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PoliticsNew Zealand

New Zealand to boost defense amid China tensions

August 4, 2023

New Zealand is facing the most testing strategic environment in decades with a military that's not fit for future challenges, according to a government review.

This handout photo released by the New Zealand Defence Force on May 7, 2023 shows New Zealand army personnels from 16th Field Regiment firing 21-gun salute in Wellington.
Specifics about increases in spending are expected to be finalized in a later planImage: Maddy BUTCHER/NEW ZEALAND DEFENCE FORCE/AFP

New Zealand has said that it needs to bolster its defense capabilities in the face of aging equipment, difficulties recruiting personnel and an intense strategic competition between China and the West.

The government on Friday presented its first national security strategy and the first stage of a defense review. 

New Zealand's defense force "is not in a fit state to respond to future challenges," the policy review presented by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Defence Minister Andrew Little said. 

The policy paper underpinned a rethinking about the role of the South Pacific nation's military, which has been used primarily in peacekeeping missions or to provide aid when other countries in the region are hit by natural disasters.

Wellington needs to invest in a "combat-capable" force and cannot rely on being protected by its remoteness, Little said. 

"The changes in the domestic and international security environment mean our response and preparedness must change too," Little said while talking to the media on Friday. 

"We must be prepared to equip ourselves with trained personnel, assets and material, and appropriate international relationships in order to protect our own defense and national security," he added.

The China 'threat'

The security strategy pointed out how China's rise is impacting old norms in New Zealand. 

"An increasingly powerful China is using all its instruments of national power in ways that can pose challenges to existing international rules and norms," one policy document said. 

Little said this was of particular concern in the Pacific, where Beijing was building relationships and was trying to demand a level of exclusivity.

"We know China offers extraordinary opportunity to us and many other countries but the nature of its conduct and its engagement with the rest of the world also poses a threat," he said.

The announcement for the military revamp comes amid talks around New Zealand's possible role in the AUKUS alliance, a key pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States aimed at countering China's rising influence in the Pacific region.

New Zealand is careful around involvement in the deal in hopes to avoid irking China, its largest trading partner. 

Macron warns against 'new imperialism' in South Pacific


Underspending on the country's 15,000-strong defense force and the hurdles it faces are well documented. 

Three of the Navy's nine ships remain idle due to a staff shortage.

New Zealand's naval frigates are also aging, while plans to build a vessel suitable for patrolling in the rough conditions of the Southern Ocean are suspended. 

Little said on Friday that the nation's current defense spending amounted to about 1% of its economy, a proportion he expected would need to grow – although not as high as 2%.

dvv/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)