China has effectively told New Zealand to butt out of the dispute in the South China Sea after an innocuous speech by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee calling on all parties to reduce tensions.

Brownlee was making a speech at the beginning of the Xiangshan defence forum in Beijing, explaining how important it was New Zealand's own economic and security interests that the tensions were managed.

He was followed immediately by Fu Ying, a former deputy foreign minister and currently chairwoman of China's foreign affairs committee.

"[We] hope that countries who are not involved in the disputes respect the countries who are having the disputes to ... work among themselves," Reuters reported her as saying and described it as a rebuke to Brownlee.

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"Outside involvement, I think the developments have shown, interferences, can only complicate the differences and sometimes even add to the tension," she said.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have claims to parts of the South China Seas which is largely claimed by China.

An international tribunal ruled against China in July this year after the Philippines took a case under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China has undertaken massive reclamation in the area and built an military-grade airstrip on one artificial island.

In his speech Brownlee made reference to the reclamation saying it had heightened tensions. And he said the ruling should be used as a basis for the parties to work together.

"New Zealand's position on the South China Sea disputes - and on the recent Arbitration Tribunal ruling - has been consistent," Brownlee said.

"We do not take a position on the various claims in the South China Sea.

"However, we have a direct interest in how tensions are managed, given the importance of the area for regional stability and economic security," he said.

We do not see our defence relationships with the United States and China as mutually exclusive, and are committed to working with both parties, and with others in the region, to achieve peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific

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"We oppose actions that undermine peace and erode trust, and would like to see all parties actively take steps to reduce tensions.

"As a small maritime trading nation, international law - and in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - is vitally important for New Zealand.

"New Zealand supports the right of states to access dispute settlement mechanisms in managing complex issues.

"We also support their right to have the outcomes of such processes respected.

"With the arbitral process now concluded, we hope that the parties can use it as a basis to work together to resolve their disputes."

Brownlee said New Zealand and China had a very close relationship and that New Zealand consistently "welcomed the rise of a prosperous, peaceful China on the world stage."

New Zealand's small size meant that a widespread commitment to a rule-based international order was particularly important.

"We do not see our defence relationships with the United States and China as mutually exclusive, and are committed to working with both parties, and with others in the region, to achieve peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific."