WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (UPDATE 2) - New Zealand is not taking sides in the territorial dispute in the South China Sea but emphasized the need for a peaceful resolution, encouraging the parties involved to engage in dialogue.
In a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, President Aquino said that both leaders agreed that any dispute should be resolved using a rules-based approach.
“New Zealand does not try and take sides on territorial disputes. But we do encourage dialogue and discourse and a way of peacefully finding a peaceful solution to these issues so we recognize the dispute that is currently being undertaken and we actively encourage the partners to try and find a way through that,” Key told reporters after the bilateral meeting.
Key underscored the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region, saying disruptions in the region would have an impact on the New Zealand economy.
New Zealand exports pass through South China Sea, with China as its biggest market for dairy products.
“Obviously, peace and stability in the South China Sea is critical because Asia is the fastest growing part of the world and we want to see that growth continued. Anything that disrupts that growth would have implications for the economy of New Zealand,” Key said.
The Philippines and New Zealand entered into a defense cooperation that entails a “formal framework for dialogue and cooperation” on education and capacity building, training activities and exercise, information exchanges, and multilateral cooperation.
Aquino and Key witnessed the signing of the agreement by New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
Aquino said other countries should not see this defense cooperation as an offensive move but a defensive one to upgrade the capability of the Philippines to defend itself not necessarily against “superpower threats” but against terrorist threats.
He pointed out that countries share the same threats from terrorists, drug and human traffickers, justifying the need to mutually enhance the countries’ capabilities to thwart them.
“Defense cooperation should not be seen as offensive to anybody, I think. Defense is just that, increases our capabilities to defend ourselves against not necessarily superpower threats but terrorist threats and so on,” Aquino said.
Aquino acknowledged China as an important driver of the world economy even as he welcomed the United States’ strategic shift to Asia and the Pacific.
“China is important to the Philippines, obviously, and important to the rest of the world. Asia is going to be seen as the driver for the recovery of the global economy. We agree with the statement of the Prime Minister that stability in the region is essential so as not to delay the recovery of the world economy. So a system where a peaceful resolution of disputes should be of everybody’s interest to foster and to make a reality,” Aquino said.