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Australian PM Scott Morrison and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown. Photo: AAP

China will never come between Australia and New Zealand, Morrison and Ardern say

  • Australian PM Scott Morrison says the neighbours stand ‘resolutely together’ on their shared principles over human rights and trade
  • In a joint statement after their meeting in New Zealand, the leaders expressed concern about the situations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday warned efforts to divide Australia and New Zealand would fail, as the countries’ leaders used their first face-to-face meeting in 15 months to play down signs of division over China.

Morrison said those who wished to split Canberra and Wellington over their policy towards Beijing would not succeed as the neighbours stood “resolutely together” on their shared values and principles.

“We will continue to work together in that way, and I have no doubt there will be those who seek to undermine Australia and New Zealand’s security by seeking to create points of difference, which are not there,” Morrison said.

New Zealand to remain independent even amid differences with China: Ardern

In what appeared to be a veiled reference to China, Morrison said “those far from here” and “many others” sought to divide the partners and allies, without mentioning any country by name.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who welcomed her Australian counterpart in Queenstown, said she did not “detect any difference” between the sides on the “importance of maintaining a very strong and principled perspective on issues around trade, on issues around human rights”.

“And you’ll see that Australia and New Zealand have broadly been positioned in exactly the same place on these issues, consistently,” Ardern said. “So I really push back on any suggestion we are not taking a strong stance on these incredibly important issues.”

In an increasingly complex geostrategic environment, “family is incredibly important, and Australia, you are family”, she said.


Differences with China ‘becoming harder to reconcile’, says New Zealand prime minister

Differences with China ‘becoming harder to reconcile’, says New Zealand prime minister
In a joint statement released after their talks, the leaders expressed concern about deteriorating freedoms in Hong Kong, the treatment of ethnic minority Uygurs in Xinjiang, and the “militarisation of disputed features and an intensification of destabilising activities” in the South China Sea.
Their statement also raised concern about “harmful economic coercion”, an apparent reference to Beijing’s campaign of economic retaliation against Australia over Canberra’s calls for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wellington on Sunday said it would participate in a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel over Australia’s barley trade row with China. Beijing has placed restrictions on billions of dollars of Australian exports including barely, wine and beef over the last year.

New Zealand ‘uncomfortable’ with growing Five Eyes beyond intelligence

The two leaders played down other recent sources of diplomatic tension, including Canberra’s policy of deporting New Zealand-born people with criminal records, even if they are lifelong Australian residents with no connections in New Zealand.

The message of unity comes after New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said last month that Wellington was “uncomfortable” about using the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance – which also includes Britain, Canada and the United States – to publicly criticise Beijing.
Wellington did not join a Five Eyes statement last year expressing concern about Beijing’s imposition of the sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, issuing its own statement instead.
New Zealand has maintained relatively upbeat China relations compared to its larger neighbour, which has seen ties with Beijing sink to their lowest ebb in decades amid disputes spanning trade, human rights, and national security. Both countries count China as their largest trading partner, taking about one-third of total exports.


China and New Zealand sign upgraded free-trade deal, eliminating nearly all trade tariffs

China and New Zealand sign upgraded free-trade deal, eliminating nearly all trade tariffs

David Capie, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Victoria in Wellington, said the two leaders clearly intended to “downplay differences and present a united front”.

“The message I took from the press conference and the joint statement is that there is a lot more that unites Australia and New Zealand than divides us,” Capie said.

“We will have our own interests and way of doing things, but we see the challenges in the region in very similar ways,” he said. “Whatever differences there are on how we manage our relationships with Beijing, it’s not in either of our interests to have others try and use them to push us apart.”

There are differences in style, but these have been overhyped to portray deeper rifts – and this is simply not the case
Darren Lim, Australian National University

Darren Lim, a lecturer in international relations at Australian National University in Canberra, also said Morrison and Ardern’s comments would dampen talk of a split over China policy.

“Yes, there are differences in style, but these have been overhyped to portray deeper rifts – and this is simply not the case,” Lim said.

“Moreover, these are two different countries in size and we should expect there to be some differences – Australia, for example, defines its interests more broadly across the Indo-Pacific than New Zealand. But this is not evidence of any rift.”

Could New Zealand help repair ties between China and the West?

During Monday’s press conference, Morrison denied suggestions New Zealand had compromised on its values to maintain a positive trading relationship with China.

“Australia and New Zealand are trading nations but neither of us would ever trade our sovereignty or trade our values,” he said. “We have stood side by side to defend and protect these values not just on the beaches of Gallipoli, but in Afghanistan and so many other places around the world.”

Morrison said the countries had pursued an “Anzac path” – referring to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps that fought in World War I – through the pandemic and should take the same approach to the “many other challenges we face”, including regional security.

Ardern said Wellington’s commitment to the Five Eyes alliance was “not in question, not in doubt”.

James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, said the divide between Canberra and Wellington had always been modest and largely based around diplomatic style.

“Wellington has avoided the chest-thumping regularly seen in Canberra and shown a greater diplomatic awareness of Beijing’s sensitivity towards possibilities such as other countries aligning themselves with the US to attack China,” Laurenceson said.

“That some in the Australian government have interpreted this as New Zealand selling us out draws attention to gnawing doubts and an instinctive defensiveness in Canberra that Wellington may have handled the China relationship more effectively than we have.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: we will not be divided over china policy, morrison says