New Zealand PM Ardern praises Biden for US efforts in the Indo-Pacific

·4-min read

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern praised US President Joe Biden on Tuesday for his efforts to build Indo-Pacific economic and security alliances that are widely seen as an effort to counter China’s influence in the region.

Speaking just before her meeting with Biden in Washington, Ardern also touted a Pacific Rim trade pact that Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump abandoned more than five years ago.

“I … wanted just to acknowledge your leadership in bringing to the table the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and whilst, of course, we are significant advocates for the CPTPP, the IPEF presents a significant opportunity to build the economic resilience of our region,” she said, referring to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

Ardern in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. Photo: AP
Ardern in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. Photo: AP

New Zealand is a founding member – along with Japan, Canada, Mexico and seven other countries – of the CPTPP, the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump withdrew the US from the TPP as one of his first actions as president in 2017. China formally applied to join the CPTPP last year.

Ardern’s trip to Washington coincided with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour of the Indo-Pacific, which is aimed at expanding Chinese military, economic and diplomatic influence.

Beijing has had some success in deepening ties in the South Pacific, most notably in the form of a security agreement with the Solomon Islands last month. Ardern said at the time that the China-Solomons deal had breached an agreement among Pacific Islands Forum members to confer with each other on security matters before making major decisions.

However, Beijing appeared to stumble in its efforts on Monday, when foreign ministers of 10 Pacific island nations meeting in Fiji failed to endorse a proposed security cooperation deal with China after meeting with Wang.

New Zealand’s Ardern says China’s ‘pace of engagement’ in Pacific has increased

That setback stood in contrast to Ardern’s support for alliances championed by Biden as part of his efforts to deepen economic and security cooperation.

“We appreciate that the Quad – the grouping of Australia, Japan, India and the United States – plays an important role in delivering practical support to the region, including providing Covid-19 vaccines and improving maritime domain awareness,” the two leaders said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

“We note the shared commitment among New Zealand and Aukus partners to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region, and to upholding the international rules-based order,” they added.

Biden participated in a Quad summit during his trip last week to Japan, with Tokyo another focus of diplomatic efforts by Washington and Beijing to counter each other’s influence.

Beijing criticised Japan for hosting events full of “negative and erroneous statements and actions concerning China”, and has slammed Aukus – a pact between the US, Britain and Australia, which will transfer nuclear submarine technology to Canberra’s military – for its potential to trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.

Later on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price raised the lack of transparency around China’s efforts to strike new agreements with Pacific Island nations.

He cited reports that foreign and local journalists had been blocked from asking questions of Wang during his visit to the region.

The Media Association of the Solomon Islands last week called on journalists to boycott a news conference with Wang and his Solomon Islands counterpart, Jeremiah Manele, amid reports that only select outlets were invited to attend.

“I think you need only look at [reports] about the PRC’s efforts to obscure these very deals themselves,” Price said when asked about the agreements Beijing wants to conclude with Pacific island nations.

Chinese officials “even go so far as to prevent officials in the region from facing reporters in their own country, and of course preventing [Wang] from having to answer to independent media who would ask the sorts of tough questions that he would surely get”, Price said.

Additional reporting by Owen Churchill

More from South China Morning Post:

This article New Zealand PM Ardern praises Biden for US efforts in the Indo-Pacific first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2022.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting