WELLINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - New Zealand should use its diplomatic clout to try and avert a situation of armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Tuesday during a first debate with his main challenger ahead of a general election.
He was responding to a hypothetical question in the 1News debate on what he would do if China invaded democratically-ruled Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, at a time when China is stepping up military activities near the island.
"Armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait is not going to be good for the world and New Zealand should use all of its diplomatic might – whatever that might be – to try and avoid that situation," Hipkins said.
Wellington has historically taken a more conciliatory approach towards China than Australia or its other Five Eyes security partners, Britain, Canada and the United States.
In recent months, however, Hipkins' Labour government has become more vocal, raising concerns about the impact China’s assertiveness is having on the Pacific region.
His comments came in a debate that saw prime ministerial hopefuls clash on most issues, although opposition leader Christopher Luxon was clear that the two main parties are on the same page when it comes to foreign policy.
"Our relationships with key partners have actually been very consistent between governments," Luxon said, adding that successive governments, and parties, had taken a bipartisan approach to foreign affairs.
Recent opinion polls give Luxon’s centre-right National Party a significant lead over the ruling Labour Party, putting it on course to win the Oct. 14 election, although it would probably need to form a coalition with at least one minor party.
Luxon agreed with Hipkins that talk of hypothetical scenarios such as China and Taiwan was not helpful, however.
"I don’t think we should talk about hypotheticals like that," Hipkins said.
Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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