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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Picture: BLOOMBERG
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Picture: BLOOMBERG

China’s increasing willingness to challenge international norms must be resisted, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) summit.

Rising tensions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were not limited to Europe, with the Pacific experiencing “mounting pressure on the international rules-based order”, Ardern said in a speech on Wednesday in Madrid, according to emailed notes. She singled out China, saying it has in recent times “become more assertive and more willing to challenge international rules and norms”.

“We must respond to the actions we see,” Ardern said. “We must stand firm on the rules-based order, call for diplomatic engagement and speak out against human rights abuses at all times when and where we see them.”

In recent years New Zealand has tried not to antagonise China, its largest trading partner, at times choosing not to co-sign statements from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance criticising Beijing. But its nuanced position has become increasingly difficult to maintain as China steps up its engagement in the Pacific — it signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, sparking concerns that it wants to increase its military presence in the region.

Ardern said New Zealand was not attending the Nato summit “to expand our military alliances”. Rather, “we are here to contribute to a world that lessens the need for anyone to call on them”, she said.

“We must use diplomacy at every opportunity, until it has proven to fail. We must strengthen the resilience of the Indo-Pacific region through relationships and economic architecture rather than militarisation.”

Ardern condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine as “an affront to all of us”, but urged Nato not to allow the legacy of the war in Ukraine to become a nuclear arms race.

“This crossroads that the world finds itself at should be the basis for us to put a halt in the production of weapons that create our mutually assured destruction, because the alternative is unfathomable,” she said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that his country is“an advocate of world peace, a contributor to global development”.

He said Nato is wrong to see the Asian nation as a challenge, adding that this view “smears China’s internal and foreign policies, and makes irresponsible remarks on China’s normal military development and defence policies”.

When asked about nonmember states joining this year’s Nato summit, he said Beijing will “watch the relevant developments of Nato closely for things that may undermine China’s interests. We will not sit idly by.”



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