China should accept the Hague's ruling on the South China Sea dispute, New Zealand's Defence Minister believes.
An international tribunal convening in the Hague is expected to make a ruling in coming weeks on a case brought by the Philippines in 2013 over China's island-building in large parts of the sea -- one of the world's trade routes.
The construction of 3000 acres of artificial islands in the sea by China has been a source or major geopolitical tension.
But the Chinese government has said it maintains the right to reject the decision.
New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee today told The Nation that while New Zealand did not take sides in the dispute, he expected the rule of law to prevail.
"We want freedom of navigation, we want freedom of overflight, we want the open lines of communication and we expect there will be adherence to international law," he said.
"We don't take a position on who has the particular territorial claim to any of those atolls or islands."
Asked if he thought China should accept the decision, Mr Brownlee said it was a matter for the Chinese government to decide, but "we believe they should".
"Having said that, there are bilateral discussions at the moment between the six countries that are most affected."
Mr Brownlee reiterated earlier comments that the case was novel and a challenging one in terms of international law.
In recent weeks Foreign Minister Murray McCully has called on China to "respect" the Hague's decision. Mr Brownlee's comments line up New Zealand more squarely with the US and Britain, who earlier this year said China must treat the ruling as "binding". China, though, has indicated it will ignore any ruling against it as a violation of its sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the Defence Minister also told The Nation he reserved the right to retaliate against any cyber attacks on the country, but New Zealand would never launch a pre-emptive cyber strike.
"I think these days cyber is as much a weapon potentially as any bomb or any other weapon of war, so we don't intend going out starting wars with anybody."
He said cyber attacks were an increasing threat to the New Zealand economy.
"If it came under attack, of course we want to defend ourselves. And are we going to sit passively and not do anything about the attacker? I don't think so. So all we're saying is let's ensure that over the next period of time we have the capacity to defend ourselves."
Asked if the Government could sell off valuable military-owned land in Devonport and Whenuapai, Mr Brownlee said, "not on my watch".
NZN / Newshub.