NZ ramps up diplomatic presence in Pacific where China influence rising

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand will send 14 new diplomats to the Pacific region next year, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Tuesday, the latest move by Western governments to counter China’s growing influence in the strategic region.

The additional staff will be based in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and the U.S. state of Hawaii, Peters said in a statement.

The move comes amid growing Western concerns about China’s influence in the South Pacific through its Belt and Road initiative, which dominated a recent Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit hosted by Papua New Guinea.

“These new positions are a first step in demonstrating New Zealand is committed to the Pacific to help it be … safer and more prosperous and enhancing New Zealand’s voice in a region,” Peters said.

The jobs will be advertised by the end of this year and the new posts expected to be filled by the middle of 2019, Peters’ office said.

New Zealand is also sending four additional diplomats to Japan, the United States, the European Union and China to coordinate policy on the Pacific region, Peters said.

The United States, Australia, France and Britain are opening new embassies, adding more staff and engaging with leaders of island nations more often in a bid to counter China’s rising influence.

Competition between the United States and China over the Pacific was thrown into focus at APEC in November with the United States and its Western allies launching a coordinated response to China’s Belt and Road program.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON; editing by Darren Schuettler