New Zealand to Buy American Boeing Planes to Counter Growing Chinese Influence in South Pacific Region

July 9, 2018 Updated: July 9, 2018

WELLINGTON—New Zealand has agreed to buy four Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes, Defense Minister Ron Mark said on July 9, strengthening surveillance capabilities as it works to counter the rise of new powers such as China.

New Zealand is responsible for patrol and rescue missions in an area of the Pacific Ocean bigger than Europe and plans to step up its engagement in the South Pacific, where it is losing sway over small island nations to China.

Mark said the aircraft were acquired from the United States through its foreign military sales program and would cost NZ$2.34 billion ($1.6 billion), including training costs. They would be operational in 2023.

New Zealand‘s military had been looking to replace its aging P-3 Orion fleet, and the upgrade pulls it in line with the capabilities of its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners – Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Maintaining maritime patrol capacity is essential for new Zealand‘s national security and for our ability to contribute to global security efforts,” Mark told reporters.

On July 6, New Zealand released a defense policy statement warning that China’s rising influence in the South Pacific could undermine regional stability.

It also alluded to tension in the contested South China Sea, which Beijing largely claims as its own, in the face of competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations.


Five Eyes Defense Alliance

The Poseidon, widely considered the world’s most advanced aircraft in anti-submarine warfare, signals New Zealand‘s readiness to help allies counter China in the South China Sea, analysts said.

“As a defense partner, you need assets. It is no good saying that you uphold the international rules-based order, you need something that will be useful for Australia and the United States,” said Euan Graham, a defense policy expert at the Sydney-based think tank Lowy Institute.

“The most obvious way is to have the same system, the P-8.”

Australia has committed to buy 15 Poseidon planes to replace its Orion aircraft, set to be withdrawn from service next year. Boeing says 85 Poseidons now operate worldwide.

Last month, South Korea said it would buy the Poseidon, as it strengthens anti-submarine capabilities in the face of the threat from neighboring North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Mark said New Zealand could consider more purchases of maritime surveillance technology as part of a review due by year-end.

“The complementary capability will consider smaller manned aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft systems or satellites, for additional maritime surveillance tasks,” he said.

By Charlotte Greenfield