New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the interests of the Chinese regime are becoming “harder to reconcile” on the world stage, while noting that the differences don’t define relations between the countries.
Ardern’s comments come just weeks after her government endured stinging criticism from UK politicians over Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s reluctance to see the Five Eyes’ arrangement expanded into other areas, including human rights dialogue.
In a speech to the China Business Summit on May 3, Ardern said her government took a “principles-based approach” to foreign policy and made decisions independently and in line with New Zealand’s interests and values.
“As Minister Mahuta said last month, we need to acknowledge that there are some things on which China and New Zealand do not, cannot, and will not agree,” Ardern said. “This need not derail our relationship. It is simply a reality.”
“We have shown this quite clearly over the past year by deliberately choosing when we make public statements on issues of concern and with whom,” she added.
“In the past year, for example, we chose to raise some issues with China in private. But alongside this, we also chose to make public statements with a significant number of other countries in multilateral bodies such as the Human Rights Council.”
“At other times, we have chosen to partner with Australia, the UK, the U.S., and other countries that share our views and values,” she said. “And sometimes we spoke out alone.”
Ardern went on to say that New Zealand had been forthright with raising concerns over the persecution of the Uyghurs and the takeover of Hong Kong, adding that these were “part and parcel” of staying true to “who we are as a nation.”
“It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here 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—are becoming harder to reconcile.”
New Zealand will continue to support the international rules-based order and appealed to Beijing to act in ways “consistent with its responsibilities as a growing power.”
Ardern also acknowledged the extensive ties between the nations, including her recent address to the Boao Forum, the $30 billion two-way trade relationship, and the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
In late April, Foreign Minister Mahuta delivered a speech to the New Zealand China Council, outlining what the country’s “contemporary relationship” with China looks like. In her speech, she warned of the need for exporters to diversify trade away from China while raising concerns about the Beijing regime’s soft power push into the South Pacific region.
However, it was her comments on the Five Eyes that raised eyebrows from democratic allies.
“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes,” she told reporters. “We would much rather prefer to look for multilateral opportunities to express our interests.”
“Matters such as human rights should be approached in a consistent, country agnostic manner,” she added. Her comments were backed by Ardern.
While the Five Eyes has traditionally been an intelligence-sharing network among Australia, Canada, NZ, the UK, and the United States, in recent years, the network has been leveraged to discuss the economy, defense, Big Tech regulation, and foreign relations.
UK Conservative MP Bob Seely criticized the comments in Parliament.
“A quarter of our British supply chain is dominated by China,” he said. “The problem is that if we go further down that route, we end up like New Zealand, in a hell of an ethical mess, with a prime minister who virtue-signals while crudely sucking up to China and backing out of the Five Eyes agreement, which is an appallingly short-sighted thing to be doing.”
In response to Ardern’s address, Michael Shoebridge, defense director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: “With these important statements of ‘staying true to who New Zealand is as a nation.’ There is no mention of the fact that China is currently using trade as a weapon against New Zealand’s close—and travel bubble—partner Australia.
“It’s a striking omission showing that where the risk of a reaction from Beijing is high, New Zealand’s approach is to rely on ‘quiet diplomacy,'” he added. “With the hope that it won’t lead to Chinese leader Xi Jinping using trade with New Zealand as a weapon.”