New Zealand is "fiercely independent" and you can't tell it what to do, the next US ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, told the Senate foreign relations committee today.

He specifically cited its opposition to China's expansion in the South China Sea and its criticism of North Korea's missile testing.

The former US Senator is almost certainly going to get bipartisan support and will be one of the first of President Trump's diplomatic nominations in the region to be confirmed. He will be ambassador to Samoa as well.

In a hearing that lasted about 45 minutes, Brown was supported by his wife, Gail, and daughters, Ayla, a singer in Nashville; and Arianna, a vet student at Cornell, and her husband, Jimmy, who is about to join the FBI.

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A resident of New Hampshire, Brown described his own difficult childhood between two parents who each married and divorced four times. He lived in 17 homes before the age of 18 in a childhood of violence and poverty.

He talked about the close relationship between New Zealand and the US, the TPP and the visit of the USS Sampson last year and its work after the Kaikoura earthquake.

Several times during the hearing he and other senators referred to China's island-building project on a reef in the South China Seas. It has reportedly just installed a rocket launcher.

"There is no real reason to be building islands and militarising and changing the law of the air and law of the sea and changing potential trade and trade routes in that part of the world just because," Brown said.

"The thing that has really kind of stuck out with me is the fact even though there is that business relationship, that trade relationship, [New Zealand] is not afraid to stand up and say 'Excuse me China, by the way, the fact you are building islands and militarising and changing the law of the air and the law of the sea - an international law that has been in place forever - we don't like that'."

That said a lot not only about the leadership in New Zealand but the fact that it was not afraid to stand up and be counted.

"They are fiercely independent - you can't tell them what you want. You have to ask them," he said.

"One of the things my family and I, my wife and I look forward to in particular is getting a fair go by the people of New Zealand.

"What that means is a fair shot, going down there we are a clean slate. We want to be there, we are eager to go. We want to serve. We want to listen and learn and then bring that back to our citizens and then to you as senators."

Brown has a military and legal background as a lawyer in private practice from 1985 until he was elected to the Senate in 2010. He joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard at the age of 19 and rose to the rank of colonel.

While a senator, he worked in the Pentagon as a deputy to the chief counsel for one of the joint chiefs.

"One of the things I am most proud of during that time is that me and my team were able to rewrite the sexual assault regulations in the National Guard."

The committee's acting chairman, Cory Gardner, said Brown's life story "is a testament to the American dream".

Brown said there had been a lot of violence in his family and a lot of tough choices. His mother had been on welfare for a while, and he had to work two or three jobs to keep a roof over their heads and keep himself and his sister safe.

"If you'd said you're going to be a US senator one day, it was very unlikely but I was blessed and I'm still blessed to have the opportunity to serve this great country."

Brown, 57, is a former male model and posed nude when he won Cosmopolitan magazine's "America's sexiest man" contest.

Former ambassador Mark Gilbert returned to the United States had been nominated by Barack Obama and his term ended just before Trump was sworn in.