Sir John Key calls on Government to work with China in the Pacific instead of trying to get rid of them

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key has called on the Government to work with China on issues in the Pacific instead of trying to get rid of them. 

On Monday, Niue appeared the latest Pacific nation eager to sign a cooperation agreement with China after Samoa inked an economic and technical pact with Beijing at the weekend.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi is currently on tour in the Pacific, seeking a 10-nation deal on security and trade.

Sir John said it's a "waste of time" trying to get China out of the Pacific, and New Zealand should be working with them instead. 

"When I was Prime Minister, they [China] wandered around there [Pacific] and built lots of different buildings and most of them weren't terribly good and not up to a use standard that would be beneficial for the Pacific," Key told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.

"So we actually tried to convince the Chinese to partner up with us and we built a water reticulation plant in the Cook Islands. So I think going off to China and saying 'hey, don't be in the Pacific' is a waste of time."

China has been providing loans to Pacific nations for years. By 2018, Tonga had borrowed $115 million - almost one-third of its annual gross domestic product - from China to help rebuild its central business and government district.

Sir John warned the Government needs to make it clear New Zealand will not help Pacific nations pay off their debt when China comes calling.

"One thing you have to make really clear to the Pacific leaders is China has been giving soft loans in the Pacific for a long period of time," Sir John said. 

"I use to say to Pacific leaders, I can't tell you how to run your country's balance sheet, but I can tell you this much, if you borrow money they will want to be repaid and we are not repaying for you. 

"I don't think the New Zealand taxpayer should be sitting there saying if Tonga or Samoa or anybody else wants to go and borrow money and do what they want with it, we are on the hook for that."

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key.
Former Prime Minister Sir John Key. Photo credit: AM

Sir John said New Zealand needs to realise China is not leaving the Pacific anytime soon.

"China is going to be there, they're going to be there forever and the Americans have been worried for a very long period of time," Key told AM. 

"What she [Jacinda Ardern] won't get I don't think is the Americans saying we are going to do so much more in the Pacific. The Americans will say quite simply we have the whole world to worry about by the way, you are sitting out there, you and Australia, it's your backyard deal with it."

Watch the full interview with Sir John Key above.