US military wants to expand ties with New Zealand, says Pacific commander who called China ‘destabilising’
- Admiral John Aquilino, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said he wanted to identify new areas where the US could work with New Zealand
- ‘The United States has been a Pacific nation our entire life. We will continue to operate in the Pacific no matter what else you might hear,’ he said
The visit to Wellington by Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, comes as the US is looking to increase its presence in the region amid deep concerns over China’s growing ambitions in the Pacific.
Aquilino was greeted with a traditional Māori welcome ceremony and laid a wreath at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. He spoke briefly to the media ahead of meetings with top New Zealand defence force and government officials.
“Our partnership runs very deep,” Aquilino said. “We are doing many things together to continue to ensure peace and prosperity for both of our nations and for all the nations in the region.”
Aquilino said he wanted to identify new areas where the US could work with New Zealand. He said the leadership of Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific was “critically important”.
“The one thing you will never hear out of me is big or small. This is a partnership,” Aquilino said. “All nations deliver those things that they can deliver.”
“The United States has been a Pacific nation our entire life. We will continue to operate in the Pacific no matter what else you might hear,” Aquilino said.
Air Marshal Kevin Short, chief of New Zealand’s defence force, said the relationship with the US had been strong for decades, and the country’s military regularly interacts with US forces so they can both operate better in the region.
On Monday, however, he only stressed the need to “work peacefully together”, and resisted the suggestion that Washington’s recent Pacific push was designed to counter China. “The timing was the timing,” he said.
“The fact that the vice-president of the United States has articulated our commitment to the South Pacific Islands is the important issue,” Aquilino said.
“The leadership that New Zealand and Australia shows in the South Pacific region is critically important, and it helps us deliver the capabilities and things the South Pacific islands need and want.”
The US military aims for net zero emissions by 2050 but with a carbon footprint greater than some 140 countries critics say it needs radical change.
If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal.
Asked directly about this contradiction, Aquilino deferred, simply acknowledging the topic was “important to all the nations in the region”.