It's time for Winston Peters and David Parker to call out the United States' move to ramp up its trade war with China.

I'm not suggesting megaphone diplomacy here.

Donald Trump's tweets will inevitably be far louder and excoriating than any ministerial commentary from New Zealand.


But this country should not sit meekly on the sidelines while the international order is disrupted.

Foreign Minister Peters, Trade Minister Parker, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, and of course Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have stood New Zealand's ground in private fora.

Notably, Peters and Ardern have also, in several pivotal foreign affairs speeches this year, staked considerable ground as they spelt out what their recasting of NZ's foreign policy as "values-based" actually means in practice.

It is a difficult balancing act for them.

They have to weigh the risk of "overdoing it and being shut out" as one Cabinet Minister told me.

But the tectonic plates are shifting.

This week, the White House said it would assess 10 per cent tariffs on a further $US200 billion ($293b) in Chinese goods. If imposed this would deepen the trade war with Beijing. As the Wall Street Journal noted it would also send a message to other trading partners that "the US won't back away from trade fights".

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he was open to talks with China to resolve the dispute. "As in the past, the US is willing to engage in efforts that could lead to a resolution of our concerns about China's unfair trade practices and to China opening its market to US goods and services," said Lighthizer's statement.


Beijing's response — which has been mirrored in the tone of an article written by Chinese Ambassador Wu Xi for the Herald — drew on a Western proverb ("like a bull in a China shop") and accused the US of "undermining the process of globalisation and the international trade order".

There is force to both arguments.

But in a domestic environment where the NZ Government has not shied away from "speaking truth to power", when it comes to Beijing's actions in the South China Sea, it is important the Government also turns its Beehive microphone on and restates what is at risk for the international trading system and New Zealand's own future in these unpredictable times.

This does not need to take a hectoring tone.

But a formal statement would not go unnoticed.

After all, Defence Minister Ron Mark's commentary — which riled Beijing — was basically a statement of fact.
Mark's comments were not aggressive.

The time when New Zealand lived in a benign strategic environment has long passed.
When it comes to the South China Sea, both former National Foreign Minister and former

National Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has made similar criticisms to Beijing both privately and publicly.

And when it comes to landing diplomatic punches, Mark's comments — while direct — were a relatively soft blow.

He was essentially stating a fact that New Zealand does need to position itself for these turbulent times.

The Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman's statement was eminently predictable.
The spokesman criticised NZ's "irresponsible remarks".

"We urge New Zealand to view the relevant issue in an objective way, correct its wrong words and deeds and contribute more to the mutual trust and co-operation between our two countries," Hua Chunying said.

Peters is not going to correct his words.

But the Government could usefully note China's urging to the US to follow accepted trade dispute settlement procedures.

And stand up (again) for what matters.