Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelled the 'West's woke weak link' over reluctance to join Five Eyes' China stance

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been labelled the “West’s woke weak link” over her Government’s reluctance to sign joint Five Eyes statements criticising China.

Con Coughlin​, the defence editor of The Telegraph, a major UK newspaper, gave Ardern the title in response to Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s comments indicating a preference to look for “multilateral opportunities” to express interests, rather than utilising the power of Five Eyes.

Five Eyes – a 70-year-old intelligence-sharing network involving Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – has made attempts to pressure China, denounce Beijing’s suppression of freedom in Hong Kong, and criticise the country’s alleged treatment of Uyghur people in Xinjiang by issuing joint communications.

The US, UK and Canada have also sanctioned officials in Xinjiang, but New Zealand doesn’t have the legal mechanisms to follow suit. Aotearoa did, however, join 27 other countries in supporting a statement presented at the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee last year discussing “an increasing number of reports of gross human rights violations” in Xinjiang.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been called the “West’s woke weak link”.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been called the “West’s woke weak link”.

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Coughlin described the move as New Zealand prioritising trade with China – or “cosying up to China’s communist rulers” – over its membership of the “elite” intelligence network.

“Ardern can expect her country’s isolation to deepen further as New Zealand faces the very real prospect of expulsion from the alliance over its pro-Beijing stance,” he wrote.

The Five Eyes network last year decided to expand its capabilities to include promotion of shared values on democracy and human rights alongside intelligence gathering and sharing. Mahuta expressed her discomfort in this expansion.

“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes.

“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.”

Ardern is adamant the country’s opposition to issuing joint statements isn’t a back down to China. She told Australia’s ABC News Breakfast on Wednesday the Five Eyes group isn’t the best platform to make such moves.

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

She said issuing such statements might be best coming from a wider group of countries with shared values.

“Is that best done under the banner of a grouping of countries around a security intelligence platform, or [is] 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.”

While there has been no official mention of New Zealand being kicked out of the group, Australia appeared to be blindsided by New Zealand’s stance.

“While no one in the Australian government is seriously suggesting New Zealand is at risk of being booted out of the intelligence-sharing network, Canberra and Washington are concerned by Wellington’s attempt to curtail its expansion. In Canberra, joking references to the ‘Four Eyes’ have only increased in recent months,” a story from the Sydney Morning Herald read.

Coughlin wrote that New Zealand’s – specifically Ardern’s – “patently pro-Beijing outlook” risks undermining Western attempts to present a united front against China. He said New Zealand has long been seen as the “weakest link” in the alliance, and this reluctance to join group action might reignite conversations over the country’s inclusion.

”New Zealand’s reluctance to cooperate with other Five Eyes members raises serious questions about its continued membership of the alliance,” he wrote.

”By choosing Beijing at the expense of her Five Eyes allies, Ms Ardern risks eroding New Zealand’s credibility on the global political map.”

Ardern has spoken previously about how she has raised issues – specifically concerns around the country’s treatment of Uyghur people – with China’s leadership team directly.

In February, she rejected claims New Zealand wasn’t doing enough to defend the rights of China’s Uyghur people following reports of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture inside “re-education camps” erected by the Chinese government.

“I don’t know what could be stronger than raising it face-to-face with the leadership in Beijing,” she said.