Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand's new stance on Five Eyes isn't a backdown to China

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is adamant that New Zealand’s new reticence about issuing statements via the Five Eyes alliance is not a backdown to China.

Her comments come after Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta noted New Zealand’s discomfort with the “expanding remit” of the Five Eyes partnership.

The Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing group of five Western nations which emerged from the British empire – New Zealand, the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shake hands before the meeting at the Great Hall of the People on April 1, 2019 in Beijing, China. (FIle photo).

Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shake hands before the meeting at the Great Hall of the People on April 1, 2019 in Beijing, China. (FIle photo).

For decades the alliance was kept mostly hidden but in recent years several statements have been issued by the grouping – some not including New Zealand – criticising China over human rights and democracy issues.

China’s government in Beijing has been furious about such statements.

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“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes,” Mahuta said to reporters.

“New Zealand has been very clear, certainly in this term and since we’ve held the portfolio, not to invoke the Five Eyes as the first point of contact of messaging out on a range of issues that really exist out of the remit of the Five Eyes.”

This stance contrasts somewhat with that of Australia, which has been more forthright in criticism of China, and have faced trade restrictions from the emerging superpower.

Ardern said wider and narrower groupings of countries made more sense.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Ardern said wider and narrower groupings of countries made more sense.

Ardern was asked by Australian morning show ABC News Breakfast if this risked sending a signal to China that New Zealand was not “one” with its Five Eyes partners on issues of democracy and human rights.

Ardern rejected this, saying instead that New Zealand just believed that the Five Eyes group was not the best platform to deliver those messages.

“Those collective voices are important, but let’s make sure we do it with the appropriate platform,” Ardern said.

She said those groupings could be wider and include countries like Germany if not restricted to the Five Eyes group – and could be as narrow as just Australia and New Zealand, who issued a joint-statement on China recently.

“Is that best done under the banner of a grouping of countries around a security intelligence platform, or it best done around a group of countries with shared values – some of which might not belong to that five eyes partnership? We should be collectively raising issues – be it Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, the United States – or, say, Germany, and others.”

Mahuta’s speech also called for New Zealand to reduce its economic reliance on China, which is its largest trading partner.

“If we look in the context of our relationship with China and China as a major trading market, we know that we need to ensure that businesses in New Zealand have greater resilience through their market connections, their trade platform with countries beyond China,” Mahuta said.