NZ faces threats from China, Russia 'in ways not previously seen', Defence warns

Defence Minister Ron Mark.
Defence Minister Ron Mark. Photo credit: Simon Wong/Newshub.

New Zealand is facing increasingly complex threats not previously seen in our part of the world, a Defence policy release warns.

There's increasing meddling in democracy, climate change will exacerbate competition for resources and populism is causing more nations to look inward, it says. It also warns there's a sense that democratic and non-democratic systems are in competition.

The paper is particularly critical of one country that's not looking inward - China, which it warns is challenging international governance values and norms.

"China has set an alternative model of democracy - a liberalising economy absent liberal democracy - challenging conventional wisdom in the West that the two go hand-in-hand," the strategic policy statement says.

While populism is causing Western nations to look inward, China is "more confident", striving for more influence through initiatives like 'Belt and Road'.

Russia too challenges Western democracies, "exploiting existing fissures" and attempting to discredit the West.

Russia's used cyber technology to target nations, including "social media campaigns that amplified political polarisation" in the 2016 US and United Kingdom elections, the report claims.

The strategy document will reset Defence's direction "to reflect the Coalition Government's foreign policy," the Government said in a statement. It will replace the White Paper of 2016.

The threat of populism and uncertainty in the US

An "accelerating" gap between the wealthy and the poor has resulted in populist and nationalist movements in the West, the report says, blaming distrust of institutions and increasing political polarisation.

While the report doesn't directly mention Russia's alleged interference during the 2016 US presidential election, it says distrust and polarisation is "in some cases exacerbated by foreign influence campaigns".

There's more potential disruption caused by uncertainty about the US' international role, it says.

Climate change

Climate change will disproportionately affect the Pacific, and will cause water shortages, food insecurity and health problems. It will lead to migration and could destabalise nations with "weak governance," the report says.