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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
In a joint statement released after their talks, the leaders expressed concern about deteriorating freedoms in
, the treatment of ethnic minority Uygurs in , and the “militarisation of disputed features and an intensification of destabilising activities” in the .
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
Wellington on Sunday said it would participate in a World Trade Organization (WTO)
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.
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
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
on Hong Kong, issuing its own statement instead.
New Zealand has maintained relatively upbeat
compared to its larger neighbour, which has seen ties with Beijing sink to their 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.
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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, 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.”
During Monday’s press conference, Morrison denied suggestions New Zealand had compromised on its values to maintain a positive trading relationship with
“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
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.”