Senior Joe Biden official Dr Kurt Campbell says the White House will soon announce an agreement with New Zealand to collaborate on “advanced” technology.
“We are close partners and friends, and it is absolutely clear that the trajectory for us is to work more closely together,” Campbell told reporters on Sunday.
Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator of US President Joe Biden’s National Security Council, met with Defense Secretary Andrew Little and several New Zealand officials as he spent less than 24 hours in Wellington over the weekend, en route to other countries in the Pacific.
“We want to intensify our cooperation … We will soon announce that we intend to launch a bilateral agreement between the United States and New Zealand on technology, which will be led by the White House,” he said.
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“We have heard clearly that New Zealand has ambition to continue its work in advanced technologies … The United States wants to support that work constructively.”
Campbell’s visit is the latest in a series of high-profile US visitors to Wellington – NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was in New Zealand last weekand the US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited last month – and comes as the United States intensifies its battle against China for influence in the Pacific.
Campbell visited the Solomon Islands last year amid alarm among countries like New Zealand, Australia and the United States that the Pacific Island nation had signed a security pact with China.
This week, he will lead a delegation from US State Departments and Defense, USAID and Coast Guard officials on a tour of the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
He said countries in the Indo-Pacific, a US term for the Asia-Pacific also used by New Zealand officials, have “stepped forward in ways that were hard to imagine just a few years ago”.
“This is in response to an urgent set of security challenges in the Indo-Pacific, and like-minded nations are coming together independently to address these challenges,” he said.
Campbell was a key figure behind the Aukus Submarine Agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The security pact will transfer nuclear submarine technology from the US and UK to Australia, which will buy up to five US nuclear submarines before building eight of its own, at a cost of AUD$368 billion over 30 years.
New Zealand, which has a strict anti-nuclear policy, has expressed interest in participating in broader, non-nuclear aspects of the Aukus agreement that have yet to materialize.
Campbell said he discussed the potential for New Zealand to be involved in a second tranche of the Aukus agreement over the weekend with officials including Defense Secretary Andrew Bridgman and Foreign Secretary Chris Seed.
He said he understood New Zealand’s “sensitivity” to nuclear energy, and the door was open for when New Zealand felt “comfortable” to join the effort.
“I know New Zealand values its independence but doesn’t want to be alone on the pitch.”
He said the bilateral technology deal – separate from the Aukus discussions – would have “many components” including military and security, as well as “how the United States sees investment in engagements on a range of issues such as semiconductors and AI”.
“What we’re looking to do is open up lines of communication to introduce New Zealanders to the most important people in our government, [to] think about the future of technology, and take real steps to move that dialogue, that agenda forward.”
Who is Kurt Campbell?
Campbell has a close relationship with New Zealand, for a US official. He was in Christchurch when devastating earthquakes struck in 2011. Two years later he was made an honorary Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for “services to New Zealand-US relations”.
He has been dubbed Biden’s “Asian Czar” for his eagerness to shift the US’s focus on the Middle East and instead look to Asia and, by extension, the Pacific. He wrote a book outlining his strategy called “Pivot to Asia”.
In the 2016 book titled The spindleCampbell says that while the US and New Zealand are “no longer allies” – in a formal, military sense – their defense and foreign policy ties have deepened over the past decade.
“Security ties are at their highest point in more than 30 years … In the region’s multilateral organizations, both the US and New Zealand are effectively coordinating their positions to promote common interests and values.”