Defence Minister Peeni Henare says he has ‘no concern’ for two Royal New Zealand Navy ships heading to the South China Sea.
Tensions are high in the region, with Beijing slamming a new defence agreement between Australia, Britain and the United States.
The agreement between the countries, dubbed AUKUS, is being seen as an attempt to counter China’s influence in the South China Sea.
A large part of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the waters, but territorial control is disputed, and China has recently increased its military activity there.
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HMNZS Te Kaha and Aotearoa left New Zealand during lockdown for training exercises in the area with the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG).
“[It’s] a good opportunity for our Defence Force personnel to continue to upskill and train with like-minded partners,” Peeni Henare told Breakfast on Friday.
Around 270 Navy and Air Force personnel are on board the two ships, one a frigate and the other a replenishment tanker.
“I have no concern for our deployment there on a training exercise at the moment,” he said.
China’s foreign ministry claimed the AUKUS agreement has “seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts.”
“The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards,” Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
China’s recent action in the South China Sea has experts concerned it is readying itself to eventually invade Taiwan.