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New Zealand highlights importance of partners in tense region

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By Lucy Craymer

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand, long known for its staunch independence in foreign policy, sees like-minded partners as key to helping it navigate a more strategically challenging environment in the Asia Pacific region, its foreign minister said on Thursday.

The comments came as tensions mount between the United States and China and the two powers step up efforts to influence countries in the Pacific region where New Zealand sits.

“We live in a world where the existing rules and norms are being increasingly challenged, eroded or disregarded,” Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a speech at a New Zealand Institute of International Affairs conference in Auckland.

New Zealand, part of the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance that includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, has historically taken a more conciliatory approach towards its biggest trading partner China, a stance that has at times led to pressure from some of its Western allies.

“In a troubled world, partnerships with shared values, commitment to a multilateral system, and common agendas on climate, human rights and regional stability become increasingly treasured,” she said.

Mahuta said New Zealand must have a clear-eyed assessment of the nation’s interests and values and determine which tools are right for different circumstances.

“An independent foreign policy does not mean isolation, neutrality, or a fixed predetermined view of how we will act on a particular issue,” she said.

However, she added that unlike during the Cold War, binary choices did not need to be made and noted the significance of New Zealand’s relationship with China.

“As the world evolves, so must our foreign policy,” Mahuta said, adding the country would invest in a range of partnerships – bilateral, regional and multilateral.

“It is these partnerships and relationships that will help us stand firmly and with confidence amidst an increasingly complex and challenging world,” she said.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Sonali Paul)

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