New Zealand wants mature relationship with China, foreign minister says


New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during an interview in Wellington, New Zealand, December 15, 2020. REUTERS / Jonathon Molloy

New Zealand wants a more mature relationship with China that goes beyond trade relations and leaves room for disagreement, especially on human rights issues, the Pacific Foreign Minister said on Friday.

Nanaia Mahuta’s comments come after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week that disputes with her main trading partner were becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile, and the country’s parliament unanimously declared that violations of human rights were being held against the Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region, angering Beijing. Read more

“It’s important for us to make sure we’re respectful, consistent and predictable in how we communicate the issues we agree on, but also the issues we don’t agree on. And that’s part of it. of our maturing relationship, ”Mahuta said in an interview with Reuters.

New Zealand has important trade ties with China and has long been touted by Beijing as a model of its relations with Western countries.

But the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, which won a second term in October, has criticized China over the Uyghur issue, human rights violations in Hong Kong and has supported Taiwan’s participation in the organization. global health sector despite a warning from Beijing.

Mahuta and Ardern said they were focused on an independent foreign policy that is not loyal to any major bloc, a popular stance nationally and followed by previous Labor-led governments, including the administration of nine years until 2008 of Helen Clark.

Mahuta said last month she was uncomfortable expanding the role of the Five Eyes, a post-war intelligence group that also includes the United States, Britain, the Australia and Canada.

China accused the Five Eyes of ganging up on issuing statements about Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs.

Mahuta’s comments were questioned by New Zealand’s Western allies who asked if the Pacific nation was concerned about criticizing Beijing over its human rights record.

Mahuta said she stands by her comments.

“It (Five Eyes) doesn’t have to be the first port of call at all times on every issue in the human rights space,” Mahuta said.

“And I have always said that it is important that we build a broader base of support for issues on the human rights front.”

Foreign policy commentators, however, say the mixed message is confusing.

“There is clearly a need for a coherent foreign policy line coming from New Zealand,” said Anna Powles, senior lecturer at the Center for Defense and Security Studies at Massey University.

“It does not help our allies and partners. It is about our relationship with our closest ally, which is Australia, and our strategic partnerships,” she said.

A diplomatic dispute between China and Australia escalated in 2020 after Canberra pressed for an international investigation into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, this did not affect China’s relations with New Zealand, with the two countries improving their free trade agreement in January.

Mahuta, the first indigenous Maori woman to hold the post, was a surprise choice last year as foreign minister.

In her first six months in office, the 50-year-old spoke of a values-based approach and brought New Zealand bi-culturalism to the center of foreign policy.

“If there is anything new that I bring to this painting, it is a values-based approach, which draws on our bicultural values ​​… as we continue our strong bilateral and multilateral relations at across the region and the world. “

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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