New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was prompted to take a tougher stance on China’s alleged human rights violations. She was quoted saying, “We need to acknowledge that there are somethings on which China and New Zealand do not, cannot and will not agree. This need not derail our relationship; it is simply a reality.” The PM further highlighted that differences between both nations are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile.
“It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China’s role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems and the interests and values that shape those systems, are becoming harder to reconcile. This is a challenge that we, and many other countries across the Indo-Pacific region, but also in Europe and other regions, are also grappling with,” she said.
PM Ardern’s comments came following a slew of accusations against Wellington’s failure to challenge its largest trading partner Beijing. The New Zealand PM has often been reported to duck any direct criticism of China owing to economic compulsions. Her government has faced significant flak for not denouncing its trade partners human rights abuses particularly against the Uyghur minority.
A longstanding accusation against New Zealand is that it remains a weak-link within the United States of America-led Five Eyes alliance. Wellington has been trying to strike a balanced tone towards Beijing in recent weeks after finding itself in a rough spot. New Zealand has been seen as resisting to speak out in unison with the ‘Five Eyes’ security allies against China.
What is the ‘Five Eyes’ Alliance?
The Five Eyes alliance is an intelligence-sharing arrangement between America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which evolved during the Cold War as a mechanism to monitor developments within the erstwhile Soviet Union. The group has reportedly been able to successfully share classified intelligence between Western powers for decades however the group recently faced an embarrassing setback following the New Zealand’s Foreign Minister’s decline to join the allies against Beijing in April.
This move by the New Zealand Foreign Minister resulted in a diplomatic incident following his refusal to take joint positions on China’s human rights record. The foreign minister subsequently issued a follow-up statement stressing on the importance of the alliance and its commitment towards it. Geopolitical experts believe that Wellington is trying to avoid hurting its own trade relations with Beijing as New Zealand depends on China for almost 30% of its exports, most of which are dairy products. While facing criticism from the Five Eyes, New Zealand still prefers to pursue its own bilateral relations with China.