Judith Collins, Richard Marles, Winston Peters and Penny Wong
Australia and New Zealand's foreign and defence ministers met in Melbourne. Image by Ben McKay/AAP PHOTOS
  • defence

China hits out at Australia-NZ ‘seamless’ military goal

Ben McKay February 2, 2024

China has sounded off again on the AUKUS pact, warning New Zealand not to get involved as trans-Tasman security talks resolved to produce “seamless” military forces.

The inaugural meeting of trans-Tasman foreign and defence ministers took place in Melbourne on Thursday, with leaders making a range of commitments to bring the Anzac allies closer.

There will be more war-gaming between Australia and New Zealand, the possibility of joint military purchases, and the increasing likelihood of the Kiwis joining pillar two of the AUKUS pact.

Australia will send a delegation to New Zealand for talks about its pillar two plans to develop and use advanced military technologies with the US and UK.

New Zealand’s involvement has rankled Beijing, with an editorial in the state-owned newspaper China Daily blasting the Kiwis, labelling them “naive” to AUKUS’ purpose.

“The geopolitical intention of AUKUS cannot be more obvious,” it said, before a warning that New Zealand is risking its relationship with China.

“Whatever role New Zealand is being solicited to play in joining AUKUS, it would no doubt cast a shadow on bilateral ties and even offset what has been achieved in advancing bilateral cooperation,” it said.

China foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was less confrontational in comments on Friday, condemning AUKUS – as it has since its creation – without mentioning New Zealand.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin
 China has toughened its comments on NZ and AUKUS since earlier remarks by spokesman Wang Wenbin. Image by EPA PHOTO 

“To promote co-operation on nuclear submarines and other cutting-edge military technologies reveals a typical Cold War mentality,” Mr Wang said.

“We hope that relevant countries will cherish the hard-won peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, be prudent in words and actions on relevant issues and adopt concrete actions to uphold the overall peace, stability and development in the region.”

After the election of a right-leaning government in Wellington last year, New Zealand ministers have repeatedly stressed their desire to be in lockstep with Australia on regional security.

“We are better together than we are apart,” New Zealand Defence Minister Judith Collins said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters says the deteriorating security environment requires close collaboration between allies.

Speaking before the Chinese response, Mr Peters said he expected Beijing to respect his government’s move.

“China understands countries – because they practice it themselves – when they look after their national interest and their citizens, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

The Melbourne meeting – the first gathering of trans-Tasman defence and foreign ministers in the 2+2 format – agreed on a work program towards integration.

Australia Defence Minister Richard Marles said there would be “increasing integration between our military forces, including through common capability, exchanges of senior military officers and increased participation in war-fighting exercises”.

Mr Marles said the goal was to “construct two defence forces which are seamless”, and Ms Collins said that would extend to buying similar assets and systems.

“For the first time, we’re looking to how we can work together when it comes to procurement,” she said.

“Everything to do with defence purchases is expensive.

“What we can’t afford to do is to go off and commit to large purchases without making sure it’s going to fit in with our ally.

“(We will) make sure that when Australia is undertaking its purchases, (we will ask) ‘is it something we should be doing at the same time?’.”

The two countries also resolved to continue the “2+2” meetings and want a Five Eyes Defence Ministers meeting, bringing together Australia, NZ, US, UK and Canada, this year.