Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says top visiting US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus did not raise an invite for a US Navy vessel to visit for the Royal NZ Navy's 75th anniversary but he does expect the US to be represented in some way even if the ship visit is rejected.
Mr Brownlee met with US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus in Wellington on Monday.
Mabus is in New Zealand for meetings with ministers and defence officials and said in a statement that while he expected the invite for the 75th celebrations in November to be discussed, it was not the reason for his visit and the US was yet to make a decision on it.
Mr Brownlee said that invite was not raised in his discussions. He had extended the invite in November 2014 and the US was still working through the process. "We would like them obviously to send a ship but if they are unable to get that through their process that's fine. We would still anticipate that they would have some form of representation at those celebrations."
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If accepted, it will be the first time a US military ship has visited New Zealand since the anti-nuclear legislation was passed in 1987. That impasse is because of the US policy of refusing to confirm the nuclear capabilities of its vessels.
Mr Brownlee said talks ranged from Antarctic to the Pacific and the South China Sea. The US Navy regularly patrols the disputed areas of the South China Sea, partly to assert freedom of navigation over the critical trade route and has asked other countries to do the same to send a message that it was international waters. Mr Brownlee said Mabus did not ask New Zealand to take part in that, but New Zealand Air Force Orions did conduct surveillance flights in the area.
"They've got a fleet up there at the moment that is passing through what are considered to be international waters that the Chinese might have a different view on. I asked what the progress was and I suppose trying to understand what their long term intentions are."
Mr Brownlee said New Zealand had taken part in exercises in the South China Seas, including with China. "We've expressed our desire that freedom of navigation does remain open."
New Zealand has tried to maintain an independent stance on the issue, saying it was for the parties to resolve the dispute. However, Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully have ruffled feathers in China by obliquely criticising it for reclamations and building up its military presence.