AUKUS, cyber-security discussed as New Zealand, Germany strengthen ties

Germany's Foreign Minister has talked up the cyber-security benefits of New Zealand aligning with AUKUS, during her first official visit. 

Annalena Baerbock made the comments on Saturday at the Auckland War Memorial Museum during a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters. 

AUKUS, a military alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia, is a multi-billion-dollar deal that would help the latter acquire nuclear-powered submarines. It is seen as an effort to push back against China's growing assertiveness in the Pacific.  

New Zealand has a nuclear-free policy and would not join AUKUS at that level. But the Coalition Government is exploring joining a second pillar of AUKUS, that would focus on sharing advanced technologies.  

Before visiting New Zealand, the German Foreign Minister was in Australia, where she endorsed the AUKUS deal, decrying the "strong gusts of wind that China's increasingly assertive stance is sending around the world". 

She shared a similar perspective when speaking in Auckland, the second stop of her trip to the Pacific, before heading to Fiji where she will open a German Embassy.

"We see that we are all facing the same threats," Baerbock told Newshub, when asked if New Zealand joining the second pillar of AUKUS would antagonise China or provide better protection. 

"We have been, as you know, in Australia as well, talking about their national security strategy as well, talking about AUKUS as well, how we can cooperate all together on different layers and levels. 

"I understand that it's similar with New Zealand, because if we want to join hands in securing our own security, obviously it's very important that we have intensive discussions about the different strategies." 

Peters did not address the question about AUKUS, but speaking at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs in Wellington on Wednesday, he said the Government was "a long way" from being able to decide.

AUKUS and the potential for New Zealand to join has been controversial, not least of all because of the nuclear-free policy, but also because it could provoke China, an important trading partner, as former Prime Minister Helen Clark has warned. 

But Baerbock suggested it might benefit New Zealand in helping to protect the rules-based international order. 

"It's our best protection, not only for democracies, but I would say for most countries in the world because most countries are countries which have only a few stronger, big military powers in their neighbourhood." 

She also pointed to the growing threat of cyber espionage. 

Prior to her trip to New Zealand, Baerbock blamed "state-sponsored" Russian hackers for an "intolerable" cyber-attack on members of Germany's politicians. 

"We are also facing in the cyber-space similar threats which are targeted at our democracies at heart, and this is why especially democracies have to join hands in this regard," she told Newshub. 

Cyber-attacks on New Zealand 

Two months ago, it was revealed Parliament was breached in 2021 by a Chinese state-backed cyber-hacking group called APT 40. China denied it was to blame. 

Judith Collins, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Minister, at the time, said it was "the first very serious attack that I'm aware of against one of our democratic institutions". 

But the Government is yet to address a separate cyber-attack by another Chinese state-backed group called APT 31. It targeted members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), including former National MP Simon O'Connor. 

"We found that out through our own networks and we weren't informed unfortunately by the New Zealand Government or any of its agencies and so as you can imagine we're pretty upset and angry about that," O'Connor told Newshub. 

The cyber-attack has been confirmed by spy officials. 

"The GCSB can confirm that it was made aware of the potential targeting of email addresses relating to New Zealand representatives on the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China," a spokesperson told Newhsub. 

"The GCSB is aware of the reported concerns of the individuals involved and is looking at the notification steps that were taken in this case. 

"Once our initial assessment has been conducted, we expect to have more to say about the next steps." 

Labour MP Ingrid Leary, who co-chairs IPAC, is pleased the Inspector-General of Intelligence is looking into whether those who were targeted should have been informed sooner. 

"This is about New Zealand's sovereign security," Leary told Newshub. "The information gaps are unacceptable."