A former New Zealand government courted China and France in an attempt to curb US and Australian influence in the Pacific, according to a leaked diplomatic cable published here yesterday.
New Zealand is also said to have formulated its anti-nuclear legislation, which caused a deep rift with Washington, because of a desire to trim its defense budget as well as for publicly stated ideological reasons.
The claims are made in a 2004 cable released by the WikiLeaks Web site under the heading “What we could not say in the mission program plan,” the Dominion Post reported. The cable said New Zealand’s Labour Party government led by Helen Clark flirted with China and France in the early 2000s “to curtail US and Australian influence in the region,” it said.
During a visit by the Chinese vice-minister for trade, “New Zealand Trade Minister [Jim] Sutton publicly claimed that China was New Zealand’s most important and valued trading partner, a claim that left Australian officials here scratching their heads in wonder.” It was a previous Labour government — led by David Lange — that introduced the anti-nuclear legislation in the 1980s, a move that led to a decades-long rift in intelligence and military co-operation between Wellington and Washington.
The cable said US officials had been told by people who were senior New Zealand government officials at the time that Wellington knew the policy would lead to New Zealand being pushed out of the regional ANZUS alliance with the US and Australia.
Exclusion from ANZUS would thereby lessen “the country’s defence spending requirements at a time of fiscal and economic crisis,” the cable said.
New Zealand’s defense spending was criticized as being too inadequate to cover even “replacement costs for basic coastal defense hardware.” Another leaked cable, published last week, said the US and New Zealand ended their 25-year break in intelligence collaboration last year but decided to keep the news secret.