New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said that while New Zealand and China do not agree on certain issues, it will not derail their relationship. This statement comes as New Zealand is under pressure from internal as well as international allies to take a firm stand against China’s atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner. Since November 2020, New Zealand’s export to China has been greater than next four trading partners: Australia, America, UK and Japan. In fact, since February 2020, export to China saw a growth of $369 million while its export to other trading countries saw a decline. As per reports, exports of primary products like meat, dairy, fish and logs to China are all up in New Zealand.
Last year, when Australia took a firm stand against China and demanded an independent inquiry into origin of the COVID-19 pandemic which originated in Wuhan, China, China retaliated with tariffs and various import restrictions from Australia. It is believed that these sanctions cost Australia AUD 47.7 billion last year. Interestingly, Beijing this year upgraded a free trade agreement with New Zealand that had been in discussion for years.
Speaking on Monday, Ardern said that she does not see differences with China ‘irreconcilable’ and that the links between the two countries remain strong. She said that while there are certain things on which China and New Zealand do not agree upon but that does not ‘derail’ our relationship. ‘It is simply a reality,’ she said. She added that there are still opportunities for New Zealand and China to work together on areas like international trade, climate change and response to COVID-19.
“Areas of difference need not define a relationship. But equally, they are part and parcel of New Zealand staying true to who we are as a nation,” she said.
Recently, New Zealand has been facing pressure from western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticise Beijing. The group includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States along with New Zealand. In April this year, New Zealand had snubbed Australia and stood with China over WHO’s report on origin of COVID-19.
The study which was conducted by international experts in collaboration with Chinese scientists left many questions unanswered such as the exact source of the virus. This prompted the 14 countries to release a joint statement on Wednesday expressing concerns over the study which was not only delayed but also lacked access to complete, original data and samples. New Zealand however was the only Five Eyes country that refused to sign the statement condemning the research and study.
Justifying its absence from the list, New Zealand’s foreign ministry told Reuters in an email response, “New Zealand acknowledges that member states have expressed a number of concerns. New Zealand wants to make sure we conduct an independent analysis to ensure we understand the science before making any comment.”