WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a stronger stance on China’s human rights record on Monday, saying it was becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile differences as China’s role in the world was growing.
While Ardern’s language has remained subdued compared to that of many other leaders, it still marked a significant change for a country that relies on China as its main trading partner. In his past speeches, Ardern has often avoided criticizing China directly.
New Zealand has tried to set the tone for China in recent weeks after finding itself on the defensive with its Five Eyes security allies by resisting speaking out in unison with them against China on some issues. relating to human rights.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta caused a diplomatic stir last month when she spoke of her reluctance to expand the role of the Five Eyes to include common positions on human rights. The alliance between New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada has its origins in the cooperation of the Second World War.
In his speech at the China Business Summit in Auckland on Monday, Ardern said New Zealand had raised “serious” concerns with China over human rights issues, including the situation of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. and people living in Hong Kong.
“And it will not have escaped anyone here as as China’s role in the world grows and evolves, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – become more and more and more difficult to reconcile, ”Ardern told the audience. .
Stephen Noakes, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Auckland, said he would not have expected to hear such a language from New Zealand just a few years ago. He said it sounded like a nod to the Five Eyes to let them know that while New Zealand may have economic dependencies on China, it was not softness.
Noakes said that because China’s relations with Australia and Canada have deteriorated so rapidly over the past few years, it has brought out New Zealand’s rosier relationship like a sore thumb.
Still, Noakes said, he didn’t expect New Zealand’s shift in rhetoric to negatively impact its trade with China. And he said New Zealand’s relatively moderate stance could make it a useful intermediary between China and other Five Eyes members in the future.
Nick Perry, The Associated Press