WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a tougher stance on human rights in China on Monday, saying it was becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile differences as China’s role in the world is growing.
While Ardern’s language remains moderate compared to that of many other leaders, it still marks a significant change for a country that relies on China as its largest trading partner. In his past speeches, Ardern has often avoided direct criticism of China.
New Zealand has been trying to set the right tone for China in recent weeks after defending itself with its five-eyed security allies, refusing to speak in unison with them against China on some human rights issues. .
Speaking at a Chinese business summit in Auckland on Monday, Ardern said New Zealand had expressed “serious” human rights concerns with China, including the situation of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region and people living in Hong Kong.
“And 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 told the audience. .
Stephen Knox, director of the Chinese Research Center at the University of Auckland, said he would not have expected to hear such a language from New Zealand even a few years ago. He said some of them sounded like a five-eyed wink to tell them that while New Zealand may have economic dependence on China, it’s not soft.
Knox said that because China’s relations with both Australia and Canada have deteriorated so rapidly over the past few years, it has made New Zealand’s more rosy relations stick out like a sore thumb.
Still, Knox said he did not expect the change in New Zealand’s rhetoric to have a negative impact on its trade with China. He said New Zealand’s relatively moderate stance could turn it into a useful mediation in the future between China and other Five Eyes members.
New Zealand has failed to call Uighur abuses genocide, a language used by the United States and some other countries.
New Zealand’s cultural and economic ties with China are particularly strong among the Five Eyes’ allies. New Zealand was the first developed country to sign a free trade agreement with China in 2008, which led to a boom in exports of New Zealand milk powder and other products. China now buys twice as much from New Zealand as New Zealand’s next largest market, Australia.