New Zealand’s high commissioner to Australia, Dame Annette King, told Australian media this week that her nation could join the AUKUS defense pact.
AUKUS, an alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States focused on the Indo-Pacific region, was announced in September. King’s comments are another sign that it could be expanded to include other nations in an effort to counter Chinese aggression in the region.
King said: “It’s been made clear to us that other countries are going to be welcome to be involved in other parts of the architecture.” She also verbalized her country’s commitment to maintaining peace. “We have reiterated our collective objective to deliver peace and stability in our region,” King said, “and the preservation of an international rules-based system.”
Those comments echoed Britain’s chief of the defense staff, Nicholas Carter, who last week suggested that AUKUS could be expanded to include other nations like Canada, Japan, and New Zealand.
New Zealand’s involvement was in question due to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s qualms about nuclear submarine technology, which is central to the alliance. Under the agreement, the U.S. and the UK will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Ardern said that nuclear submarines acquired under the deal would not be allowed in New Zealand’s territorial waters and that her country will not be involved in the development of nuclear-powered submarines. New Zealand has pursued a policy of keeping its territory nuclear-free since the 1980s.
King focused on cyber collaboration, saying that New Zealand would like to be involved with artificial intelligence quantum computing: “And cyber is one area that we’d certainly be interested in, but there’s no detail yet — so we will be looking for detail.”
In announcing the alliance, Australia said that initial efforts “will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.”
New Zealand has not been outspoken about the threat from China, as it is its largest trading partner. Last year, New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said that Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government should “show respect” and “a little more diplomacy” in order to have better economic relations with China. He later publicly distanced himself from those comments.
AUKUS is expected to allow for an expanded presence of the U.S. military in the Indo-Pacific region as well as upgraded capabilities for allies.