Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has welcomed a renewed United States push into the Pacific, through which it pledges to help fight climate change and ward off what it called China's "pressure and economic coercion".
Pacific leaders have been meeting in Washington DC this week for a historic two-day US-Pacific Summit initiated by the superpower, which has acknowledged the region has not received the "attention it deserves".
The strategic announcements come at a time of heightened geopolitical tension with China seeking its own arrangements with Pacific nations.
Overnight, the US announced a nine-point plan and strategy document and today leaders of 14 Pacific island nations and the US put their names to a joint declaration.
US President Joe Biden reconfirmed about NZ$1.4 billion in projects and funding for the region, covering development assistance, climate change, combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and leadership training.
The bulk of funding - about $1b - is to increase payments as part of the US Pacific Tuna Treaty over the next decade, which allows US boats to fish in Pacific countries' exclusive economic zones. The payments and wider economic package still need to be approved by Congress.
The US also pledged to recognise the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign states. While both countries were independent from New Zealand, the US had not established formal diplomatic relations with them.
Biden also announced he would appoint a first-ever US envoy to the regional Pacific Islands Forum and USAID would reestablish its mission in Suva, Fiji, by September next year.
The Pacific push was first outlined by Vice-President Kamala Harris at the Pacific Islands Forum in July, in an unprecedented move seen by experts as a clear "power play" aimed at its superpower rival China.
The announcement followed concerns around the Solomon Islands and China security pact, and an ultimately unsuccessful push by Beijing to achieve a wider security and economic agreement in the Pacific.
Mahuta said Aotearoa New Zealand was "strongly supportive of assistance which is responsive to partner needs".
"We support increased US engagement with Niue and Cook Islands, and understand that diplomatic recognition will better enable closer engagement.
"The US is a long-standing partner in the Pacific. We are pleased to see a lift in ambition in their engagement with our region, especially as we work collectively on core regional challenges, like climate change."
The Pacific Partnership Strategy, the first of its kind, noted "heightened geopolitical competition" in the region.
"Increasingly, those impacts include pressure and economic coercion by the People's Republic of China, which risks undermining the peace, prosperity, and security of the region, and by extension, of the United States."
It stated such challenges "demand renewed US engagement across the full Pacific Islands region".
"To that end, President Biden is elevating broader and deeper engagement with the Pacific Islands as a priority of US foreign policy.
"This national strategy – the first-ever from the US government dedicated to the Pacific Islands – both reflects and advances that commitment."
Meanwhile, today leaders of 14 Pacific island nations and the US put their names to a joint declaration covering a wide range of issues including climate change, economic development, security and addressing the legacy of wars in the region, including from nuclear testing and unexploded bombs.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was pleased the countries had agreed on a shared vision and roadmap.
He spoke of joint efforts around combating the climate crisis and Pacific ambition laid out in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, recently endorsed at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva, Fiji.
"I'm very pleased that we have this today, that we've agreed on it, and it will give us a roadmap for the work that we're doing in the future."
University of Otago Professor Robert Patman told the Herald it was a "significant" moment.
"It is the first time in my memory that 14 leaders from one region have been entertained by the State Department, and with observers from New Zealand and Australia and the Pacific Islands Forum. It is quite a group and quite a statement of intent."
The US has in the past been criticised for making bold statements about the Pacific but not following through.
Patman said this time appeared different, with the US appearing to have taken on board the needs of Pacific island countries, particularly around climate change.
There was also bipartisan support for such action in the US, largely as a counterweight to China's growing presence.
"It is one of the few things they can agree on," Patman said.
But rather than seeing it as Pacific nations choosing the US over China, Patman said it was more about doing what is best for each nation and for the region.
"I think for many Pacific islands nations the escalation of US-China rivalry can only be seen as a good thing as it gives much more leverage than they've ever had before.
"Biden has also taken on board to some degree what New Zealand and Australia have been saying, that they should not seek to contain China but rather meet the needs of Pacific islands nations."
Conversely, the Chinese tour through the region earlier in the year appeared not to do much good, with some leaders "put off" by the way it was conducted, Patman said.