Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

NZ lies low amid China dispute

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

New Zealand is lying relatively low amid increased tensions in the East China Sea dispute between China, and the United States and its allies, and seems determined not to criticise anyone.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the Herald today: "We regard anything that lifts the level of tension in the region as unhelpful and we are hoping to see some constructive dialogue between the parties reduce tensions in the immediate future."

Asked if either China's declaration of an air defence zone around disputed islands with Japan or the un-notified flights of unarmed US bombers and Japanese and South Korean aircraft through the zone were ''unhelpful," Mr McCully said he did not want to provide "a running commentary" of actions of any specific country.

"We would simply say that anything that lifts the level of tension is unhelpful and we hope that the parties are going to be able to find a good basis for understanding going forward."

US Vice-President Joe Biden is due to visit Beijing next week on a pre-arranged trip.
Mr McCully said the issue had arisen in an unexpected way. "I don't think this was foreseen by the neighbourhood."

"There has been quite a strong focus on the maritime issues and this is the first time we have seen the same issues arise in relation to air space."

He has issued no statement on the matter.

US has formal security alliances with Japan, Australia and South Korea.

New Zealand has an intelligence alliance with the US as part of the Five Eyes arrangement among the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

But the previous three-way security alliance under the ANZUS Treaty (US, Australia, New Zealand) is defunct.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman last year signed the Washington Declaration with former US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta but it is a co-operation agreement, not an alliance, and the United States' Navy still refuses to enter New Zealand ports because of New Zealand's anti-nuclear laws.

Dr Coleman was coincidentally in Beijing today for pre-arranged talks with China's Defence Minister General Chang Wanquan and the Air Defence Identification Zone was discussed, Dr Coleman said in a statement.

New Zealand's position contrasts markedly with Australia's since last weekend, when China unilaterally declared an Air Defence Identification Zone around what it calls Diaoyu Islands and Japan calls Senkaku.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this week ordered that China's ambassador be called in to hear the Australian Government's concerns at the unilateral declaration of an air defence zone. She has made critical comments in the news media, although they have not been posted on her ministerial website as is the practice.

Beijing called Ms Bishop comments ''irresponsible" and called on Australia to "immediately correct its mistake, so as to avoid damaging China-Australia relations."

She has since restated her concerns and been backed up by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The EU High Representative Catherine Ashton today issued a statement expressing concern at China's actions saying "the development heightens the risk of escalation and contributes to raising tensions in the region."

- NZ Herald

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