US, New Zealand restore military cooperation

Well, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has moved on from Japan to New Zealand, where has has secured an agreement to reinstate naval cooperation with the Kiwis. This was broken off in 1985, when New Zealand banned nuclear weapons from its territory, thus closing its ports to nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered US warships. The US shortly retaliated by suspending its defense pact with New Zealand, and barring the Pacific nation’s warships from US ports or bases. Now Panetta in Auckland just announced that the ban has been lifted, and military cooperation will be restored. Although New Zealand remains officially a nuclear-free zone, which means nuclear-armed US ships will continue to be barred, that looks like it could be next to go. “While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course in our relationship that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues,’” Panetta said. (VOA, Sept. 21; NYT, Sept. 20)

Panetta also stopped in China, where, as Voice of America notes, he was allowed a rare tour of a warship and submarine at Qingdao (in Shandong province; VOA incorrectly renders it “Qinqdao”), home of the Chinese navy’s North Sea Fleet. But VOA notes:

Many in China suspect that the Obama administration’s shift toward Asia is aimed at curbing the power of the emerging world power. The so-called “pivot” includes plans to transfer Marines to Australia and shift 60 percent of US naval forces to the Pacific by 2020. 

As we noted at the time, the announcement nearly a year ago of the Australia deployment was the first unequivocal sign of the New Cold War with China, which became overt with the release of the Pentagon’s 2012 “strategic defense guidance” a few months later.