16 Jul 2018

NZ's defence strategy risks wrath of China - Simon Bridges

9:44 am on 16 July 2018

National Party leader Simon Bridges is ringing alarm bells about New Zealand's relations with two world super powers - America and China.

Simon Bridges in the RNZ Auckland studio for an interview on Morning Report.

National Party leader Simon Bridges is sounding a warning over New Zealand's relations with the US and China. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Bridges told Morning Report he was concerned about the unpredictability of US President Donald Trump - after the US president labelled the EU a foe.

"Whether you're from the Labour Party, the Green Party or the National Party, because the reality is - I think we can all agree - we are the most distant, isolated, smallest developed country in the world. We need strong players who are predictable and certain," Mr Bridges said.

"We're certainly not getting the level we expected [of certainty and predictability] or seen in the past."

If relations between the United States and China became more strained over trade tariffs it could lead to more of that unpredictability, he said.

"I don't think it's going to affect New Zealand in the short term ... the reality is , it's the old saying - if America, and actually today, if China sneezes we all catch a cold."

However Mr Bridges said there would undoubtedly be economic ramifications from China after New Zealand's Defence Strategy published earlier this month warned of the consequences of a more aggressive China.

"The defence paper is pretty clear in its critical stance but [Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters] won't bring himself to be in that space," he said.

"I think that is worrying. We all deserve, actually China deserves, a clear position from New Zealand, not having to read the tea leaves, not having to be open to misinterpretation."

There needed to be greater clarity and understanding around the defence paper to avoid the risk of negative economical consequences, he said.

"We need to understand the validity of where Mr Peters is taking us in this - we've got the stringent defence document, we don't see that coming through in his comments, it's this very obtuse position.

"I've got to say as well, this will have economic ramifications for New Zealand. I just don't think there's any doubt about that," Mr Bridges said.

"We have an FTA (free-trade agreement) upgrade coming along and we've got a situation where if you're sitting there in China's position they look at this, they try and work out what we're doing.

I don't think they will be in a position or mood to do us any favours.

"Not simply because of what is being said... but actually the way it is being done where ultimately China, as are New Zealanders, are being forced to understand what the position on China from New Zealand is by reading the tea leaves ... it's just not good enough."

He also said he continued to back National MP Jian Yang who was forced to defend himself after confirming that he had taught 'spies' in China.

"Before me being or becoming the leader, he has asked and answered quite decisively the questions around all of this ... he is a highly valued member of parliament," Mr Bridges said.

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