Last week, 13 countries around the world voiced their concerns about China’s interference in the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, all signed the joint declaration.
Almost everything. One Five Eyes Nation, New Zealand, declined to be named in the communique.
This has raised lingering concerns that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government is weaker against Beijing. It is even dubbed the “soft belly” of the Five Eyes.
Wellington may have witnessed a diplomatic and trade dispute between the two China and Australia and have decided they don’t want to end up in the same position. But as New Zealand knows, even light criticism can anger China.
NZ failed to follow China’s Five Eyes’ statement
“New Zealand has been criticized for being reluctant to join forces with other states and to speak of concerning issues of concern with China,” wrote University of Canterbury China specialist Professor Anne-Marie Brady in the magazine. Diplomat last year.
“It practices deliberate ambiguity in its Chinese policies, and so far, seems to have gotten away with it.”
But New Zealand’s efforts to find a win-win way to deal with Beijing have caused its political will to be questioned by its allies.
In January last year, the British newspaper the Financial time declared that New Zealand was “on the verge of survival as a member” of the Five Eyes and had a “recumbent” attitude toward China.
A piece of evidence supporting that view occurred this week when even WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on China over its reluctance to provide WHO COVID-19 investigations with the raw data the scientists asked for.
That New Zealand doesn’t endorse the WHO, the Five Eyes, or the likes of Japan, South Korea and Israel in calling China China is shocking.
Ardern’s government said its reluctance to join the chorus disapproved because it had not fully read the report. That was despite everyone, including small Estonians, had enough time to study the contents.
“Our technical experts are analyzing the report,” said New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta spokeswoman Australian.
“Since this is a scientific report, we wanted to make sure we understood science before commenting.”
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Denial has happened before. In January, New Zealand failed to sign another official statement of the other Five Eyes condemned the arrests of pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong.
Also in January, Trade Minister Kiwi Damien Cook said Australia should follow New Zealand and “Show respect” to China and “beware of words”.
The advice led former diplomat and Liberal MP Dave Sharma to say he “expects more from trans-Tasman solidarity”.
“It shows a lack of familiarity with basic facts that I would not expect from close friends and partners like New Zealand,” he told SMH.
A lot of eyebrows have been raised about New Zealand’s handling of its relationship with China.
Unlike Australia, Australia has signed up to one aspect of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. According to Financial time, Businessmen associated with the Chinese Communist Party are major donors to New Zealand’s main political party.
A New Zealand lawmaker recently admitted it teaching Chinese spies English to monitor other countries’ communications before emigrating. But he has denied passing information about his adoptive country back to Beijing, reports the Stuff website.
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NZ nicknamed Five Eyes ‘soft belly’
“Tiny New Zealand may seem like an odd target for Communist party infiltration, but the country appeals to Beijing as the soft belly of the Five Eyes,” wrote Jamil Anderlini in an opinion piece for Financial time last year.
The term “soft belly” haunts Mrs. Ardern. In 2018, the Canadian Government used it in official document to illustrate how China views New Zealand as a weak spot in security intelligence. It added that Beijing’s relationship with Wellington is a model for future Sino-Australian relations.
New Zealand exported $ 18 billion of product to China, double that of Australia.
“Perhaps fearing Beijing will respond with economic sanctions, Ms. Ardern has gone to great lengths to avoid mentioning the topic of Chinese political interference,” Anderlini added.
He only has to look across Tasman to see the trade pain China has inflicted on Australia after Canberra called for a WHO investigation, barred Chinese tech giant Huawei from sensitive infrastructure and continued to criticize Beijing’s human rights record.
In contrast, earlier this year, the free trade agreement between China and New Zealand was stepped up.
Funnel CCP Global Time praised Wellington, said it was “impartial” between the US and China and “has kept its own judgment on the main agenda regarding China”.
China’s constant call for western nations to take sides, which also has the useful side effect of undermining any impulse that may come.
Look for ‘safe ways’ to deal with China
Prof Brady said New Zealand was looking for a “safe way” to deal with China. But the country is actually more aggressive in fighting Beijing than ever before.
He dubbed it New Zealand’s “calm shift” from the previously adopted “blind eye”.
“New Zealand is … looking for a safe way to deal with China’s increasing political interference activity and aggressive foreign policy,” he said.
“The New Zealand government strictly avoids direct confrontation with China. Instead, the government is carefully managing a case-by-case recalibration of New Zealand-China relations, while claiming that any changes are ‘state agnostic’. “
In one piece Security, Prof Brady said New Zealand could learn from Australia’s “missteps” in China.
The danger for New Zealand, however, is that there may not be a safe way to manage China and its tiny glass jaws. Any criticism of Beijing is met with hostility.
In December, Ardern supported – in a somewhat muted manner – Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s disillusionment with a tweet from Beijing apparatchik depicting a digger slit the throat of an Afghan child.
That Global Time pointed the thorns towards Wellington. Maybe a warning shot.
“Kiwis bleat like Australian sheep but don’t condemn the killing in Afghanistan,” said the newspaper, who argued that Arden’s comments were something he “had to say” to safeguard trans-Tasman ties.
NZ is not silent on China, but perhaps more silent
New Zealand certainly doesn’t stay idle in China. It has expressed disappointment over the demise of Hong Kong’s already limited democracy. It has also barred Huawei from sensitive infrastructure. Last week, the foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand said they had “grave concerns” about the treatment of the Uighurs.
Ms Ardern said New Zealand laws prevented sanctions from being imposed on China. That escape route means China is not levying sanctions in return, which is the case for the US, UK and Canada. Despite this, Beijing still rebukes him for meddling in the country’s “internal affairs”.
It’s a difficult balancing act for Ms. Ardern and the New Zealand government.
The aim might be not to poke the dragon. But as its allies routinely resent Beijing’s anger, there may be pressure for Wellington to give up its “calm change” and more firmly support Australia and the rest of the world’s democracies against China.