The South China Sea and New Zealand’s Foreign Policy Balancing Act
This chapter examines the way that New Zealand’s response (or lack thereof) to the South China Seas dispute shines light on its foreign policy perspectives in an era of significant geopolitical change in Asia which has been occasioned by China’s rise. It begins by offering an account of the apparent reluctance of the New Zealand government to take an especially strong or public stance on the tensions in the South China Sea in 2014. It then shows that one of the possible explanations for this circumscribed response can be found in the challenges facing New Zealand in balancing its relations with and between the major powers. While New Zealand has been enjoying closer security relations with the United States, it has still been cautious about becoming party to what might be seen as a US-led set of positions on Asia-Pacific security. This means that Wellington is more likely to indicate a preference for mutual restraint in the South China Sea than to use language and formulas which can easily be depicted as criticism of China’s actions in particular. At the same time, as a strong supporter of international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes, and as a candidate for the UNSC for 2015–2016, to be completely quiet on this issue would have set up a disconnect with the principles that New Zealand would want to be known for supporting. The result is that the New Zealand government made its concerns known in some quarters, but in a far less pointed way and more general than some of its traditional security partners. In that sense too, New Zealand’s approach has been closer to the milder consensus positions of ASEAN than to the loud concerns of some of the individual South China Sea claimant countries in Southeast Asia. This also means that there have been differences in the approach taken by New Zealand and its near neighbour Australia.
KeywordsNew Zealand South China Sea
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