New Zealand is exercising its independent foreign policy this weekend by welcoming a Chinese Air Force airlifter to take part in a military exercise, despite the US revoking an invitation to China last week to take part in a military exercise.

China was un-invited by the US from participating in the annual Rimpac naval exercises which are led by the US Pacific fleet in Hawaii, and these days includes New Zealand, although it was banned until 2010 during the nuclear rift.

The US cited China's continued militarisation of the South China Seas when it announced the revocation of its invitation to Rimpac. China has taken part in Rimpac since 2014.

A Russian-made aircraft, an Ilyushin IL-76, belonging to the People's Liberation Army Air Force will land in Auckland on Saturday to take part in Exercise Skytrain with the NZ Defence Force.


China is the only country joining New Zealand in the exercise with a detachment from RNZAF's Not 40 Squadron in humanitarian aid and disaster relief and search and rescue operations.

New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark said it was up to the US who it invited to Rimpac.

The People's Liberation Army had previously exercised in New Zealand aimed at humanitarian and disaster relief work.

"Exercising with foreign nations allows the NZDF to test our processes. It means if disaster strikes we can effectively work with these nations to provide relief.

"There is no relation between this exercise and Rimpac," he said.

The Defence Force said an example of the application of the exercises occurred when New Zealand and China's PLA Air Force were both involved in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 in the Indian Ocean in 2014.

The IL-76 is medium range, multi-purpose military transport powered by four jet engines.

New Zealand lost its ally-status with the US after anti-nucelar laws were passed in 1986 but signed a defence co-operation agreement in 2012, the Washington Declaration.


New Zealand's close relationship with China has raised some eyebrows within the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, including the US.

But US Defense Secretary James Mattis said last weekend he did not expect countries to choose between the US and China "because a friend does not demand you choose among them."

But speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which Ron Mark also attended, he set out the reasons for withdrawing the invitation to China.

"China's militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island," he said.

"Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion.

"China's militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to President Xi's 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this.

"For these reasons, and as initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea, last week we disinvited the People's Liberation Army Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, as China's behaviour is inconsistent with the principals and the purposes of the Rimpac exercise, the world's largest naval exercise, and exercise in which transparency and co-operation are hallmarks."