China comes in for some unusually explicit criticism from the Government in a defence document just released by Defence Minister Ron Mark, the Strategic Defence Policy Statement.

The paper makes veiled references to growing tension with the United States and will form the basis of future Defence decisions, including acquiring new assets and the development of relationships.

It warns that Great Power competition and complex transnational threats "will disrupt New Zealand's neighbourhood in ways not previously seen".

It also reaffirms that New Zealand would respond in the event of a direct military attack on Australia.

Advertisement

The international rules-based order, which supported New Zealand's independent foreign policy, was coming under pressure, the paper said.

New Zealand had an obligation to support the order "and be willing to support the prevention or resolution of conflict within and between states".

"New Zealand's security outlook and its expansive maritime environment may be shaped most powerfully by a combination of forces putting pressure on the international-rules based order, which will play out in newly potent ways close to home."

One of the forces was the growing importance of spheres of influence, with some states pursuing greater influence in ways that sometimes challenged international norms.

As China had integrated into the international order, it had not consistently adopted the governance and values championed by the order's traditional leaders, the paper says.

"Both domestically and as a basis for international engagement, China holds views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand."

It says China has set an alternative model of development - a liberalising economy without liberal democracy – challenging conventional wisdom in the West that the two go hand-in-hand.

Referring to the bases that China has built on artificial islands in the Spratly and Paracel islands, it says "these posts now feature new radar and communications arrays, airstrips and hangars, deep water harbours, and weapons systems, which provide China with the ability to quickly deploy a range of additional capabilities in and around key international shipping lanes".

Advertisement

The reference to "Great Power competition" echoes a theme of a major foreign speech a week ago by Foreign Minister and Mark's New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters.

But whereas Peters' speech raised questions about how New Zealand exhibits an independent foreign policy in such a strategic environment, the Defence paper explicitly says New Zealand should be ready to stand alongside traditional friends.

"Increasing challenges to Asia-Pacific security, including the undermining of the existing regional order, could impact New Zealand's security and prosperity," the paper says.

"It is important that New Zealand is able to contribute Defence capabilities in support of Asia-Pacific regional security as well as worldwide in support of the maintenance of in the international rules-based order…

"The Defence Force must be able to operate effectively with New Zealand's key security partners, including with our ally Australia, and our other Five Eyes Partners [US, UK and Canada].

It says that Defence must be "clear-eyed" about the implications of geostrategic competition and the range of effects and insecurities that may impact on partners in the neighbourhood and further afield.

"Defence should stand ready to assist partners and multilateral institutions in ways the Government may direct."

The statement says the two other forces impacting on the rules-based orders are first, challenges to open societies and Western liberalism, driven by rising disillusionment with existing arrangements within those societies; and second, a collection of complex disruptors including climate change, new technologies changing the nature of conflict, extremist ideologies and transnational organised crime.

The United States doesn't feature very much in the paper but it is cited as an example under "challenges to open societies": "Uncertainty about the future international role of the United States has disruptive implications in itself…The United States' national security strategy acknowledges a more competitive environment that will test its ability to remain a peerless global military power."

The paper emphasises the importance of space-based systems [satellites] to New Zealand's wellbeing and to Defence Force Operations.

"Defence now has an important role in contributing to international efforts to ensure secure access to space-based services."

[The Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018 will be available from 12 pm on July 6].