New Zealand is a part of the Five Eyes (FVEY) intelligence alliance; five western nations who nominally at least share intelligence issues with each other.
The countries have been in a loose form of alliance since the end of the Cold War.
All – the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – recently decided that their secret alliance should move from behind closed doors, and that they should openly do more to oppose human rights violations around the world.
In theory it is a brilliant idea, but in reality, it has already run into trouble because of New Zealand.
While the rest of the countries have jointly condemned China’s concentration camps thinly veiled as “re-education camps” for the Uyghur Muslims, New Zealand has remained largely silent on the issue.
This comes as a surprise as New Zealand is very outspoken on Human Rights matters in general.
However, recently the Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta stated that New Zealand felt uncomfortable in appearing to corner China on the issue.
While it is not necessary for New Zealand to harshly criticize Beijing on the world stage it is certainly surprising that they decided to stay silent at a critical time in regional history, especially as China continues to suppress dissent in Hong Kong, and continues to coerce Taiwan to give in to its demands that the island nation is an integral part of China – even though both have completely separate political and legal systems.
All the while, more and more news is coming out of China about forced sterilizations of Uyghur women, and slave labor forced on Uyghurs by Chinese authorities in the form of cotton picking, as well as attempts to force the Uyghurs to disavow Islam by making them eat pork.
It is important to know at this juncture that China is New Zealand’s largest partner, making up around 30% of New Zealand’s overall trade equating to about US$10.8 billion.
Wellington’s second largest partner, far behind China, is Australia with cross-Tasman trade making up about 12.7%, or about US$4.8 billion of New Zealand’s total trade.
Most of New Zealand’s exports to China come in the form of dairy products, and it appears New Zealand is afraid of what happened to Australia after Canberra stood up to Beijing over the treatment of the Uyghurs; in an act of punishment China cut down on Australian wine imports by a staggering 96%.
China has already – clearly – decided to make enemies of most nations that they say or do anything that China doesn’t like, and the Communist Party in Beijing have long been leveraging favorable economic ties with countries around the world to stop them asking critical questions about China’s slide into fascism under President Xi Jinping.
New Zealand is starting to show signs of a national backbone emerging, however.
After China’s treatment of Australia, Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was quoted saying that the differences in their values were getting harder to reconcile.
Perhaps Prime Minister Ardern could not be more direct about her stance at present for fear of economic repercussions. Perhaps her approach to Beijing is simply ‘pakaru’ to use a Kiwi term.
COVID-free travel between New Zealand and Australia has only just started after both nations closed their respective borders to the rest of the world for much of the past 15 months, and it seems at present that New Zealand was looking to appease its long-time partner Australia ahead of Prime Minister Morrison’s visit to New Zealand late in May.
This appears to be the case with New Zealand also trying to moderate between Australia and China to help facilitate better relations between the two.
For now this appears the only way New Zealand can maintain it’s trade relations with China while also supporting its neighbor Australia.
China’s ever-growing influence and how to counter it in the halls of power on both sides of the Tasman Sea is expected to be a long standing focal point for Australia and New Zealand to hammer out though.
Until then, New Zealand remains the weak link in the FVEY, and China knows it.
Image: Ulysse Bellier