New Zealanders are urged to exercise caution when discussing geopolitical issues with Pasifika whānau, a defense expert has said.

The advice comes as those across the Pacific and abroad watch China’s growing influence in the region.

There has also been a fierce debate about climate change, Covid-19 and the rising cost of living – mainly affected by the global pandemic since March 2020.

The advice from defense expert Dr Paul Buchanan comes as conversations about China’s reach across the Pacific become more frequent.

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“No government likes to be told what or how to do things. Neither should New Zealand, so we shouldn’t tell or try to tell our neighbors how they should or shouldn’t act,” said the director of 36th Parallel – a geopolitical strategy and risk consultancy group.

Buchanan’s comments come amid the fallout between the United States and China over what the Americans and their allies, New Zealand and Australia, claim is “Beijing’s push for more power, presence and of influence in the Pacific”.

The relationship between Washington and Beijing came to a head in May when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a tour of 10 Pacific countries with trade and security on his agenda. The Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China, much to the disappointment of Americans, Kiwis and Australians.

Since Wang’s visit, several US officials have headed Down Under. New Zealand and Australia also sent diplomatic delegations to the recent Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Fiji.

Defense analyst Paul Buchanan says New Zealand must respect its Pacific whānau.

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Defense analyst Paul Buchanan says New Zealand must respect its Pacific whānau.

US President Nancy Pelosi is in Taiwan, and the world is now bracing for China’s response. President Xi Jinping reportedly told his US counterpart, Joe Biden, in a phone call last week that “anyone who plays with fire will be burned” in reference to Taiwan, which China considers its breakaway province.

White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said he expects more top US officials to visit the Pacific as “Washington steps up its engagement to counter China in the region. strategically important”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in Samoa earlier this week with a parliamentary and community delegation to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the friendship treaty between the two countries. The celebrations also coincided with the opening of the Samoa border on August 1 – one of the last countries in the region to reopen to the world.

While there, Ardern pledged $27 million to support Samoa’s response to climate change and rebuild Apia’s Savalalo Market which was destroyed by fire in 2016.

Ardern said relations between the two nations had not been so friendly in the past and New Zealand should apologize for its treatment of Samoans.

Samoa suffered its most disastrous epidemic more than a century ago – the flu pandemic – brought by steamer from Auckland which led to a formal apology in 2002 by Prime Minister Helen Clark. A year ago, another historic apology was offered by Ardern for the 1970s dawn raids across Aotearoa.

Ardern said the talks with his Samoan counterpart, Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, were “very friendly and warm” and that the talks were held “in this spirit that we are friends and neighbours”.

While praising New Zealand’s efforts to support its Pacific neighbours, Buchanan said New Zealand could not be seen as dictating to its Pasifika friends.

“It’s kind of condescending and condescending of us to tell island states what to do like they’re…kids.” And they are not.

“Let the people of the Pacific make their own decisions and if it doesn’t work out, you never know, they can come to us for advice or some form of help. But let them settle these matters themselves.

The parliamentary delegation - led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - lands in Apia, Samoa on August 1.

Ben McKay/POOL

The parliamentary delegation – led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – lands in Apia, Samoa on August 1.

Buchanan also warned that New Zealand is leaning too heavily on Australian-US-centric defense policy and direction in the South West Pacific.

“We must stick to our focus – not only on the Pacific as a community of neighbors and not adversaries, but also on non-traditional security issues.

“When you hear what Pacific Islanders are saying – that climate change is the number one security priority for them – we need to listen to them. The United States and Australia are not because they are so focused on China.

A defense policy review is underway, launched on July 7, citing the Department of Defense assessment released last December which recommended moving from a “reactive and risk management-focused approach to a more deliberate and proactive.

Defense Minister Peeni Henare announced in December his three priorities for the agencies: people, infrastructure and the Pacific.

Henare said the government wanted to ensure the Defense Force was “fit for purpose” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, intensifying great power competition and escalating climate change.

The Cabinet has asked defense agencies for a new policy and strategy statement to be issued in October and “future force design principles” in April 2023 – with terms of reference to include “what equipment is needed and the recruitment figures?

This review could “completely reorient” Aotearoa to engage more proactively in the Pacific region, Buchanan said. .

Major General John Boswell, head of the New Zealand Army, visited Fiji last month and praised the work of the Officer Cadet School (OCS) which had been in the Pacific nation since the July 1 to participate in Exercise Veiliutaki.

Using the highlands to conduct close-range training with the Fijian military, 90 Kiwis, 72 locals and four international students from Tonga and Fiji worked together in fully integrated multinational platoons.

“We are two countries that have been through some pretty tough times over the past couple of years and having the opportunity now to re-engage, reconnect as military members and renew our great partnership for many years is a welcome one,” Boswell said.