By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern began talks Tuesday with US President Joe Biden as Washington seeks to solidify a broad coalition of nations to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Addressing reporters in the Oval Office, Biden said Ardern has taken on a "critical role" in the region on issues ranging from climate change and global efforts to curb extremism and gun violence, stressing that the US is seeking to partner with Wellington, not dictate its policy.
"We are not coming to dictate, or lay down the law," said Biden. "I think there's a lot of opportunity to make the world safer and deal with the environment."
Ardern acknowledged "the incredibly difficult international environment" facing nations and offered New Zealand's "sincere condolences" following a pair of mass shootings in Texas and New York that have shaken the US.
"It's been devastating to see the impact on those communities," she said.
The White House face-to-face comes as Washington continues to pursue greater consensus among its international partners to check China's actions across a range of issues, from disputes about intellectual property protections to maritime and other border disagreements.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week there is "growing convergence" within the international community "about the need to approach relations with Beijing with more realism," and added Washington would seek to lead a bloc of nations to meet the "long-term challenge to the international order" posed by China.
"We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War to the contrary, we're determined to avoid both," he said.
"Even as we invest, align, and compete, we will work together with Beijing where our interests overlap. We can’t let the disagreements that divide us, stop us from moving forward on the priorities that demand we work together, for the good of our people and the world," he added.