US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed on Thursday that New Zealand would be warmly welcomed to participate in the AUKUS alliance, a significant agreement aimed at balancing China’s influence in the Pacific region.
During his visit to Wellington, Blinken emphasized that “the door is wide open for New Zealand and other potential partners to engage in the AUKUS alliance according to their discretion.”
The AUKUS pact involves Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and includes ambitious plans to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
New Zealand has been cautious about its involvement in the alliance, aiming to avoid upsetting its major trading partner, China, which vehemently opposes the pact, seeing it as disregarding international concerns and escalating regional instability.
While New Zealand has ruled out participating in nuclear-related projects (pillar one of the AUKUS deal) due to its anti-nuclear policy, high-level discussions about its role in AUKUS have intensified recently.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins expressed openness to limited participation, possibly centering on “pillar two” of the accord, which focuses on cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, and the development of long-range hypersonic missiles.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, however, cautioned that no firm agreements have been made yet, and any proposal for New Zealand’s involvement would need approval from the country’s cabinet.
New Zealand and Australia are significant allies of the United States in the South Pacific, but New Zealand has faced accusations of prioritizing its relationship with China over its partnerships within the Five Eyes spy group, which includes the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
Recent trade agreements were signed between New Zealand and China during Prime Minister Hipkins’ visit to China, where he emphasized the importance of economic connections between the two countries, sidestepping sensitive issues.
The upcoming discussions between US officials, including Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, with their Australian counterparts will focus on military cooperation and finalizing the details of the AUKUS alliance.