New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has insisted relations with close ally Australia are not going to be negatively impacted by China. The Ardern government has been accused of going soft on Beijing in order to profit from better trade relations with the East Asian nation.
Ardern has also been holding annual talks with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss trade, security and the challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the New Zealand skiing and adventure sports resort of Queenstown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, have downplayed signs of division over relations with China.
Earlier this year, New Zealand said it was “uncomfortable” using the 70-year-old Five Eyes intelligence grouping, which includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, to criticize China. That was widely interpreted as an attempt by Wellington to avoid damaging its lucrative trading relationship with Beijing.
A television news documentary accused New Zealand of abandoning Australia “for a fast Chinese buck.”
New Zealand was reluctant to sign joint statements from its alliance partners condemning China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and its treatment of its minority Uyghur Muslim population. The declarations have angered China’s government.
But after annual talks Monday with the Australian prime minister, Ardern said she stood in solidarity with her trans-Tasman neighbor.
“At no point in our discussions today did I detect any difference in our relative positions on the importance of maintaining a very strong and principled perspective on issues around trade, on issues around human rights, and you will see that Australia and New Zealand have broadly been positioned in exactly the same place on these issues consistently. So, I really push back on any suggestion that we are not taking a strong stance on these incredibly important issues,” Ardern said.
New Zealand has also indicated it will support Australia in its ongoing trade dispute with China. Tensions between Canberra and Beijing have increased in recent years over geopolitical disputes and allegations of Chinese interference in Australian politics. Canberra’s call for a global investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which first emerged in China in late 2019, sent the relationship into a tailspin, resulting in sweeping Chinese tariffs on many Australian exports, including wine, barley and coal.
Morrison said his country’s relationship with New Zealand remained strong.
“As great partners, friends, allies and indeed family, there will be those far from here who would seek to divide us, and they will not succeed," Morrison said.
There are, however, areas of disagreement.
Canberra’s controversial deportation of New Zealanders convicted of crimes, including children, has strained the two countries’ relationship. A senior Australian minister compared the policy to “taking the trash out.” In response, New Zealand officials said practice was "deplorable" and that the minister's inflammatory remarks served only to "trash his reputation."
Both countries also discussed how to ease tough COVID-19 border controls to eventually reconnect with the rest of the world.
In a joint statement, Ardern and Morrison urged China to respect human rights in Hong Kong and criticized its incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
In response, China said that Australian and New Zealand leaders had made “irresponsible remarks” on its internal affairs and made groundless accusations against Beijing.
China has been a subject of global condemnation over the treatment of a million Muslim Uyghurs held in internment camps, including a U.S. classification of Chinese policies toward Uyghurs as 'genocide.'