New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to media in Wellington, New Zealand Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. As people in…
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to media in Wellington, New Zealand, Feb. 15, 2021.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there are growing differences with China over its human rights record, but said those differences will not ultimately define Wellington’s relationship with its largest trading partner. 

In a speech Monday to the China Business Summit in Auckland , Prime Minister Ardern said it has not escaped anyone’s attention that as Beijing’s role in the world evolves, “the differences between our systems — and the interests and values that shape those systems — are becoming harder to reconcile.” 

The prime minister said her government has raised “grave concerns” with China over its treatment of ethnic Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and its tightening grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

Uyghurs and other members of the faithful pray at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as seen during a government organized trip for foreign journalists, April 19, 2021.

Ardern’s stern remarks comes weeks after Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta expressed reluctance to expand the role of the Five Eyes intelligence security alliance to criticize China’s human rights record. The Five Eyes alliance includes Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. 

New Zealand’s previous reluctance to openly criticize China is in stark contrast to Australia, which is engaged in a tense diplomatic and trade dispute over Canberra’s call for an international probe into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first detected in China in late 2019.