In a move likely to appease Beijing, New Zealand’s foreign minister is distancing the nation’s foreign policy away from close democratic allies, preferring to chart its own course on relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
While Mahuta warned local exporters of the need to diversify their trade markets and raised concerns on Beijing’s expansion in the South Pacific, she indicated that the Ardern government preferred not to align with the Five Eyes’ nations on issues outside of intelligence-sharing.
“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.”
“New Zealand has been very clear, certainly in this term since we've held the portfolio, not to invoke the Five Eyes as the first point of contact on messaging out on a range of issues," she said.
“Matters such as human rights should be approached in a consistent, country agnostic manner,” she added.
“At times, we will do this in association with others that share our views and sometimes we will act alone."
Alexander Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato, said the CCP would be pleased by the minister’s speech.
“This is a comment China will be happy with, as it will act as a brake on the expansion of the somewhat informal alliance that is the Five Eyes,” he told The Epoch Times.
The Five Eyes’ alliance—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States—was formed in the 1940s originally as an intelligence-sharing network.
Foreign ministers from the Five Eyes’ have recently jointly condemned Beijing’s takeover of Hong Kong and the persecution of Uyghurs in China.
Mahuta’s comments also continue a departure from the foreign policy position of predecessor and former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.
However, following the 2020 landslide victory for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party, which saw Peters’ New Zealand First party ousted, the government has shifted in its position.
Mahuta, meanwhile, likened New Zealand-China relations to that of a Dragon and Taniwha, a mythical Maori sea serpent.
"There are some things on which New Zealand and China do not, cannot, and will not, agree," she said.
“On many occasions, New Zealand has raised issues privately with China. Where there is tension between the Dragon and the Taniwha, we take a consistent and predictable approach through diplomacy and dialogue.”
“If they (Australia) were to follow us and show respect, and I guess show a little more diplomacy from time to time, and be cautious with wording then, they too, hopefully, would be in a similar situation (to New Zealand).”