By Matthew Brockett
(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Navy will send a ship to New Zealand later this year, ending an impasse over the country’s anti-nuclear policy dating back to the 1980s.
Visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden accepted an invitation to send a ship to the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary in November, Prime Minister John Key said in a statement Thursday. It will be the first time a U.S. warship has entered a New Zealand port since the USS Texas in 1983.
New Zealand elected a Labour government in 1984 that campaigned on a platform of making the country nuclear-free, a policy enshrined in law in 1987. Because the U.S. would neither confirm nor deny whether its ships were nuclear powered or armed, New Zealand rejected a planned visit in 1985. A year later, New Zealand was suspended from the so-called ANZUS alliance with Australia and the U.S.
Today, such information about U.S. Navy vessels is freely available, and the U.S. is more concerned with growing its presence in the Pacific as China extends its influence in the region, said Paul Buchanan, a security analyst at 36th Parallel Assessments.
“It’s the United States that’s relented on the issue and that’s a small triumph for New Zealand, but there are much bigger issues of trade and security,” Buchanan told Radio New Zealand. The U.S. wants to cement its position in the South Pacific and “it would be absolutely ridiculous for it to continue to cut its nose to spite its face.”
The U.S. places “incredible importance” on the Asia Pacific, Biden said in a televised news conference in Auckland Thursday. “We are a Pacific nation. We are not going anywhere. We are here to stay.”
Buchanan said the planned ship visit would “end of an era of acrimony” and could mark the start of a closer military relationship between the U.S. and New Zealand.
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