Pacific countries should not be patronised and can make their own decisions about engaging with China, Jacinda Ardern says. The Prime Minister made the comments after weeks of rising tensions over China’s overtures in the region, and ahead of a planned visit from Samoa’s PM. “I feel like some of the commentary we’ve seen does a disservice to the Pacific,” Ardern said. “These are sovereign nations who have had relationships with China that span many years, as New Zealand does.” Ardern said the idea island nations were unable to determine their own relationships with China and should be dictated to was inappropriate. The PM will fly to Australia on Thursday to meet with new Australian PM Anthony Albanese and said the Pacific Islands Forum will be among discussion topics. Can new US-led Indo-Pacific deal compete with China’s belt and road? Defence Minister Peeni Henare said he was prioritising relationships with Pacific nations. “My first trip once the borders came down was to the Pacific, was to Fiji.” He said he’d met with Pacific Defence Minister counterparts several times recently. Henare will leave for Singapore tomorrow to attend a regional defence and security forum called the Shangri-La Dialogue. “My trip to Singapore has already locked in engagements with a number of the Pacific nations.” He is expected to meet with defence ministers from Australia, Singapore, Canada, and South Korea. Henare said from the defence perspective, his engagements had been and would continue to be about supporting Pacific nations. “It wasn’t about going in and being paternalistic. It was going in to continue to support their own aspirations, acknowledging that they are sovereign states.” National Party leader Christopher Luxon said he wanted to see more engagement with the Pacific. “We definitely don’t want to have a patronising relationship with the Pacific and that’s not the intention at all. We went to have very strong, equal partnerships,” he said. “There’s people-to-people connections. We can probably think about how we support students here in New Zealand, a range of things like that that we can do.” Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa will visit New Zealand this month. It will be her first trip to New Zealand as Prime Minister and will come 60 years after the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries was signed. Ardern said Mataʻafa will officially be welcomed on June 14. Regional issues, development cooperation and Covid-19 responses were likely to be discussed, Ardern said this afternoon. Mataʻafa will visit Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and Auckland, and attend several engagements, including a community gathering with seasonal workers. China last month reportedly sought a Pacific agreement with 10 nations and its foreign minister Wang Yi embarked on a regional tour. The Chinese ventures have intensified geopolitical debate about the influence major powers have in the region. Australia’s new foreign minister Penny Wong has moved quickly to engage with the region, touring Samoa and Tonga in her first weeks in the new job.