New Zealand and Australia play down differences with China
New Zealand and Australia played down their political differences on Monday, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denying Wellington was taking a soft stance on human rights to avoid offending its bigger trading partner.
The Ardern government has criticized its modest criticism of China’s rights record, while Australia’s more outspoken stance has resulted in punitive trade measures from Beijing.
The center-left New Zealand leader insisted that Trans-Tasmanian allies were stuck on attitudes towards China after holding talks with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in the mountain retreat of the South Island of Queenstown.
The two men issued a joint statement expressing their “deep concern” over the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang province.
“You will see that Australia and New Zealand have basically positioned themselves in exactly the same place on these issues,” Ardern told reporters.
“So I really reject any suggestion that we are not taking a firm stand on these extremely important issues.”
Ardern and Morrison have also supported an effort to further investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, which remains a sensitive topic for China.
The New Zealand government refused to sign a statement last year by the Five Eyes intelligence network condemning developments in Hong Kong, and this month insisted on removing the word ‘genocide’ from a parliamentary motion on the fate Uyghurs.
Australia fully supported the Five Eyes statements, triggering fiery rhetoric from Beijing as well as import levies on a range of Australian products.
Morrison said he doesn’t think New Zealand is a weak link in the spy network, which also includes the US, UK and Canada.
“None of us will ever trade our sovereignty or our values, we have stood side by side to defend these values,” he said.
Morrison said Australia and New Zealand want a free and peaceful Indo-Pacific region and will work to ensure that this goal is not threatened by rising Sino-US tensions.
“The world is characterized by increased strategic competition between the United States and China, it is obvious,” he said.
“I would say our common view is that such strategic competition does not necessarily have to lead to an increased likelihood of conflict.”
Ardern has also glossed over other irritants in the Trans-Tasmanian relationship, including Canberra’s policy of deporting New Zealand-born criminals even if they have been in Australia for most of their lives.
“As with any family, we will have our disagreements from time to time but … we are much bigger than our differences,” she said.
© 2021 AFP