New Zealand’s close ties to the Pacific are ‘enough’ to fend off China, says Aupito

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Pacific foreign ministers meet in Fiji.

PIF Secretariat

Pacific foreign ministers meet in Fiji.

New Zealand’s long-standing relationship and strong cultural ties to the Pacific are “enough” to fend off a superpower like China, Deputy Foreign Minister Aupito William Sio has said.

Aupito met with the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Foreign Ministers in Fiji as part of the Leaders’ Summit which started on Monday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is also present.

Beijing’s influence in the region is expected to be high on the agenda, amid ongoing issues such as climate, weather, Covid-19 and, more recently, Micronesia’s threat to withdraw from the forum.

Representatives from 15 countries and 21 international partners are meeting in Suva from July 11-14 amid growing concerns over China’s influence in the Pacific – highlighted by a security deal with the Solomon Islands in May .

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Aupito, who is also Minister for Pacific Peoples, said that while the pandemic has highlighted the challenges of small nations, New Zealand’s role is important because “the Pacific sees us in a different light than other nations.

“Our strong relationship with our Pasifika whānau is enough – they can be sure our approach is for the well-being of everyone in the region. This will allow New Zealand to counter cheap loans or secured infrastructure from China. »

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

“The Pacific sees us in a different light than other nations,” Associate Foreign Minister Aupito William Sio said of New Zealand’s role in the Pacific. (File photo.)

Aupito said that the unity of the region and the viability of its infrastructure will be at the heart of this forum.

Pacific leaders will also focus on tackling common challenges, forum secretary general Henry Puna said on Monday.

Puna said the implementation of the 2050 Strategy for the Pacific Blue Continent will also be discussed. “It’s time we looked at a guiding principle – a framework to guide our collective path to 2050 and beyond,” the former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands said.

But Puna also faces enormous pressure at the head of the first regional political institution. Micronesia threatens to withdraw its support for the forum. On Sunday, Kiribati President Taneti Maamau announced that his government was leaving the forum because it was concerned about the direction of the forum.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna is facing intense pressure from Micronesian states on his leadership.

PIF Secretariat

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna is facing intense pressure from Micronesian states on his leadership.

But Puna said a strategic route was needed to bring the whole region together. “We now have many challenges ahead – climate change, recovery from the pandemic and increasing geopolitical interest in our region. We must be united if we are to meet these challenges.

“Climate change is our biggest challenge. I believe we are now rapidly approaching the tipping point where there will be no turning back, not just for us in the Pacific but, for the whole world.

“This will continue to be our top priority and it is heartening to hear the noises coming out of Australia from the new government.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Pacific envoy Penny Wong will attend the forum meeting.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare opened the summit with a prayer. The Solomons leader is expected to be asked to clarify his government’s security deal with Beijing.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, second from right, arrives in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit.

PIF Secretariat

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, second from right, arrives in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit.

In his welcome address, Forum President Frank Bainimarama said the new 2050 Strategy sets out a long-term vision to drive political and development aspirations and approaches to critical challenges in the Pacific.

“Our region is committed to working closely with this forum to find solutions that benefit everyone,” said the Fijian Prime Minister.

“As we look at the challenges ahead of us, we also become painfully aware of what we have left behind,” Bainimarama said.

“Any nation or group of nations cannot solve its own problems while the rest of the world struggles to survive.”

The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting ends on Thursday. Member States include Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

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