New Zealand’s PM Ardern says trade with China won’t trump rights concerns
- Her government has been accused of going easy on Beijing, with some commentators labelling Wellington a ‘weak link’ in the Five Eyes alliance
- Unlike Australia, which China has hit with sanctions over its outspoken stance on issues like Hong Kong and Xinjiang, New Zealand has not faced retaliation
Ardern’s government has been accused of going easy on China’s much-questioned humanitarian record, prompting some commentators to label New Zealand a “weak link” in the Five Eyes security alliance.
But the leader rejected suggestions that economic ties with her country’s largest trading partner were muting her ability to voice broader concerns.
“It is very important to us that we maintain integrity in the way that we conduct our diplomatic relationships,” she said in a joint interview with AFP, The New Zealand Herald, NBC News and Covering Climate Now.
New Zealand has also raised concerns about the same issues, but has been more restrained in its statements and has not faced any economic retaliation.
Ardern’s government declined to support a parliamentary motion in May labelling the treatment of Uygurs as genocide, saying the legal case to use the term had not been made and instead expressed “grave concern”.
New Zealand has also said it is “uncomfortable” using the Five Eyes group – comprising the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – to criticise China on rights issues.
But Ardern insisted New Zealand’s diplomatic ties with China were not determined by trade.
“We have the maturity in our relationship to raise issues that we’re concerned about, be it human rights issues, be it labour issues, be it environmental issues,” she said. “And it’s very important to us that we continue to be able to do that and do that regardless of those trading ties.”
Asked if she would classify China as an ally or an adversary, she replied: “I don’t think we would determine our relationship with any country in such stark terms.”
Earlier this year, Ardern said New Zealand’s differences with China on human rights were becoming “harder to reconcile”, but her government would continue to point out areas of concern to Beijing.
Differences with China ‘becoming harder to reconcile’, says New Zealand prime minister
“We welcome that physical presence, being part of important talks in our region,” she told the Meet the Press programme. “And we have seen, we have seen that greater ... engagement in recent times.”
Additional reporting by Reuters