New Zealand's foreign minister downplays possibility of economic coercion from China – SBS News

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New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has downplayed the possibility the country could be the next target of China’s economic coercion. 

In an interview with SBS News, Ms Mahuta said New Zealand remained “predictable and consistent” in its relations with the superpower against the backdrop of a tense geopolitical environment in the region.    

Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern earlier this week presented a united front in their approach to China – but Australia has borne the brunt of retaliatory measures imposed by Beijing stemming from strained diplomatic ties with Canberra.

Asked if she is concerned New Zealand could soon suffer a similar fate as Australia, Ms Mahuta said:  “Not really, we stand on our independent foreign policy…we have a respectful relationship with China.” 

“They are a key trading partner. However, our relationship goes beyond that.  

“We take the approach that we do articulate the many areas of difference that we have in on the human rights front, open democracy. They are areas where we do disagree.”  

It comes after Mr Morrison and Ms Ardern ​expressed ‘grave concerns’ over human rights concerns around the treatment of Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province at the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders’ Meeting. 

They also expressed ‘deep concern’ over China’s crackdown on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and warned against militarisation activities in the South China sea.  

Beijing was quick to respond, accusing the leaders of “irresponsible remarks” and “grossly interfering in China’s domestic affairs”.  

Like Australia, China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner with two-way trade worth over $33 billion dollars.  

Ms Mahuta said they were mindful that China’s economic coercion against Australia could travel across the ditch. 

Australian wine, barley, beef, lobster and coal have been the target of such measures.  

“If we look across the Tasman and the experience of Australia and what’s happening there,  we’ve got to be mindful, we’re neighbours, we’re close neighbours,” she said. 

“So we’re certainly sending signals as a government, to our exporters, that they need to build resilience into the business continuity plans as they export to China and to other areas.” 

New Zealand has faced criticism that it has been too hesitant to criticise China out of fear of economic retaliation.  

During a joint press conference with her Australian counterpart Ms Ardern rejected the criticism, saying both nations are on the same page.   

In April, Ms Mahuta said she was uncomfortable in using the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to criticise China on human rights.  

The five-member intelligence network – comprising of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – released a joint statement calling on China to respect democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.    

But New Zealand declined to join its Five Eyes allies by not signing the statement.  

“You don’t have to invoke the Five Eyes relationship every time on every issue and in particular human rights,” Ms Mahuta said.  

“Those set of arrangements are security and intelligence arrangements, we contribute to those arrangements and we get a lot from it.”