Chinese state media react to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's major foreign policy speech

The Prime Minister's major foreign policy speech has been seen as a softening of her stance towards Beijing by Chinese state media.

Jacinda Ardern spoke to the Lowy Institute in Sydney on Thursday about the three principles that underpin New Zealand's independent foreign policy and how that's managed in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment.

She spent much of her speech considering the principle of 'place', which Ardern said for New Zealand means the Pacific. 

Echoing comments she's made in other recent foreign policy addresses, the Prime Minister said it was important that the Pacific's security issues were resolved locally. It would also be wrong, Ardern said, to characterise the interest of other parties in the region, such as China, as "new", considering they have long contributed aid and development to island nations. 

While Ardern has made that point before - including as recently as Tuesday - the remarks have been zeroed in on by the Chinese state media tabloid The Global Times

It's published an article saying Ardern "softens her stance on China during visit to Australia" while "Canberra's plan to rally Wellington against Beijing at the Pacific Islands Forum 'may be blown'".

The piece references an analyst from the East China Normal University as saying Ardern "exposed that the illusion that 'China is a newcomer in the South Pacific,' hyped by the US-led West, is untenable".

The Global Times also includes comments similar to what the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand have said about Beijing's intent in the Pacific. It claims China wants to develop "friendly and open cooperative" relations with island nations and bring benefits "in terms of social and economic development". 

"Under pressure from the US, the UK and Australia, New Zealand often had to say what the great powers wanted to hear, but it is talking less," the article cites another researcher as saying.

It also mentions Beijing's anger towards New Zealand after a joint statement with the United States raised concern about the controversial signing of a security cooperation deal between China and the Solomon Islands. 

"The New Zealand leader cannot resist the growing pressure from the US and Australia as the US has been anxiously drawing its allies to its side to maintain hegemony, analysts said.

"But New Zealand is reluctant to completely lean to the US' side, analysts noted."

The piece goes on to highlight the close trade relations between New Zealand and China as a reason why Wellington "is more cautious on its China policy".

The New Zealand Government has called its relationship with China "mature", meaning the two countries can continue to cooperate while also raising differences. 

Ardern's done that on many occasions, such as by condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang and anti-democratic actions in Hong Kong. During her NATO address, the Prime Minister said China is becoming "more assertive".

In her speech on Thursday, Ardern said it was important for the countries in the Indo-Pacific to keep dialogue open.

"In the wake of the tensions we see rising including in our Indo-Pacific region, diplomacy must become the strongest tool and de-escalation the loudest call," she said.

"We won't succeed, however, if those parties we seek to engage with are increasingly isolated and the region we inhabit becomes increasingly divided and polarised. We must not allow the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy to become an inevitable outcome for our region."

It comes ahead of the Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting next week, in which China's push for greater influence in the region is likely to be a topic of conversation. After Beijing secured its deal with the Solomon Islands, it also sought a region-wide agreement, but local leaders initially rejected that, saying they needed more time to discuss it together.