Differences between New Zealand and its top trading partner, China, are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile as Beijing’s role in the world grows and changes, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
The comments come as New Zealand faces pressure from some elements among Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticize Beijing.
“It will not escape anyone’s attention that as China’s role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – become increasingly difficult to reconcile,” Ardern said.
“This is a challenge that we, like many other countries in the Indo-Pacific region, but also in Europe and other regions, are facing,” she added.
In comments that provoked some reaction among Western allies, Foreign Minister Nanaya Mahuta said last month that she was uncomfortable expanding the role of Five Eyes, which includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. Read more
“This speech seems to have been designed to divert surprisingly sharp and sharp criticism from commentators following Mahuta’s remarks last month,” said Jeffrey Miller, an international analyst at the Democratic Project political website.
However, the comments do not change New Zealand’s overall move to a more China-friendly or at least more neutral position, he said.
“Ardern and Mahuta are selling the new position as New Zealand, which is pursuing an ‘independent foreign policy’ that is not loyal to any major bloc,” he added.
China, which accounts for nearly a third of New Zealand’s exports, has accused the Five Eyes of escaping it by issuing statements about Hong Kong and its treatment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.
New Zealand’s parliament on Tuesday will consider a smaller party’s proposal to declare the situation in Xinjiang a genocide.
Ardern said New Zealand would continue to talk about these issues individually and through its partners, noting that managing relations with China would not always be easy.
China’s ambassador to New Zealand, Wu Xi, who also spoke at the event, warned that issues related to Hong Kong and Xinjiang were China’s internal affairs.
“We hope that the New Zealand country could have an objective and fair position, respect international law and not interfere in China’s internal affairs in order to maintain the stable development of our bilateral relations,” she said in a speech.
Beijing is embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with Australia and imposed trade restrictions after Canberra lobbied for an international investigation into the source of the coronavirus. China denies that the curbs are repressive, saying the reduced imports of Australian products are the result of buyers’ own decisions.
Over the weekend, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said China had recently acted “more aggressively abroad” and was “increasingly controversial”. Read more
Asked whether New Zealand would risk trading with China, as well as Australia, to uphold the values, Ardern said: “It would be a concern for everyone in New Zealand if the consideration was ‘Are we talking about this or are we too worried about economic impacts?’ ? “
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