Tom Udall, the new US ambassador to New Zealand, says he wants to find common ground with China in a region where tensions are often high.
Udall, a former US senator from New Mexico held his first press conference in his new role Thursday after presenting his credentials the day before.
He said relations between the United States and China are complex as the two countries disagree on human rights issues and compete economically.
“But, at the same time, and that’s in the vein of when Richard Nixon visited China, it’s about ‘How do we find things to work on together?’,” Udall said. “How do we find ways to cooperate? And I think our government has already made a big effort to work on climate change with China. “
He said one of the biggest challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region was the tension in the South China Sea, where China has increased its military presence and confidence. He said the international patrols had been well received by many countries.
“These are international waters and they should be open and free,” Udall said.
He said he viewed his new role as a peacemaker.
“I’m not here to stir things up… I’m here as a diplomat,” Udall said.
Udall has said he has been a good friend of US President Joe Biden since his first internship in 1973. Udall replaces another former US Senator, Scott Brown, appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Udall, 73, said he had never visited New Zealand before his recent arrival, but was working on learning the indigenous Maori language.
Longtime conservationist Udall said climate change poses an existential threat, especially to Pacific island nations. He said he looked forward to working with New Zealand on renewable energy issues, including its geothermal and hydropower efforts and expansion into solar and wind power.
Due to its long-standing nuclear-free policy, New Zealand was recently excluded from a new security alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia. The new alliance would see Australia build nuclear submarines using British and American expertise.
Udall said he doesn’t believe New Zealand’s position, which includes banning nuclear-powered ships from entering its ports, will hamper stronger defense ties with the United States.
He said New Zealand was in favor of US involvement in the region and that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had specifically said that the new alliance did not change anything.
“I think it was a very positive thing for her to say,” Udall said.
Udall, a Democrat, served two terms in the Senate, five terms in the House and was Attorney General of New Mexico. He comes from a long line of civil servants.
The Independent Gt