When New Zealanders vote in a national election next Saturday, foreign policy will have been largely absent from the campaign debate in a normally outward-looking country. After the Christchurch mosque massacre, a volcanic eruption disaster and a global pandemic, the focus has shifted to domestic security. But the elephant in the polling booths will still be China. The Covid-19 induced economic downturn has underlined the country’s dependence on China. It sends nearly a third of its exports to the mainland, and 20 per cent of its exports overall contain Chinese components. What sets New Zealand apart from neighbouring Australia and other Western allies is that has done better in maintaining harmonious ties with China. As members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, New Zealand and Australia have criticised Beijing over its policies on Hong Kong, the Uygurs and the South China Sea. And like Australia, New Zealand has also been rocked by claims of Chinese interference in politics. But on the surface you would not know of these tensions. China has barely registered a mention – a reflection of the preservation of harmonious relations, while Australia has angered Beijing and prompted retaliation with claims of foreign interference and a call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. New Zealand has done this with a less confrontational approach. According to opinion polls, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party could win a parliamentary majority in its own right. This would enable Ardern to update her government’s China strategy and reconcile tensions between China and New Zealand’s allies with the importance of its economic ties. Ardern has said foreign policy “will be informed by our values and our own assessment of New Zealand’s interests”. Beijing and Washington will be watching carefully. The latter will not have forgotten examples of Wellington’s independent foreign policy. They include a ban on US nuclear-armed or powered ships imposed in the 1980s and opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq without the backing of the United Nations Security Council. What New Zealand lacks in size it makes up for when it comes to standing up to be counted.