Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta was probably expecting her speech this week on New Zealand’s policy towards China to be widely read, but not to have produced the savage reactions it did in some quarters.
In our examination of the speech, Point of Order drew attention to how Mahuta had delivered a poke in the eye to NZ’s allies — and sure enough, this was the feature which got most attention across the ditch.
At home the ACT party was fired up by praise for the speech from China. It found this approval, coming from a communist dictatorship, as “deeply concerning”.
ACT’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Brooke van Velden says it’s hard to imagine how Nanaia Mahuta could fail harder than being praised by a communist dictatorship and shunned by democratic allies.
She noted international media are commenting that NZ has “broken with its Five Eyes partners as it pursues a closer alliance with China” and that ‘“Five Eyes becomes four”.
“It didn’t help that Mahuta used bizarre rhetoric about taniwha and dragons. There might be a place for mysticism in a competent speech, but the minister failed to chart a course for NZ by addressing the tough issues.
“There was no mention of CCP interference and influence in NZ, the South China Sea, or the intimidation of Chinese communities in other countries.
“The fact that China has praised Mahuta for her comments shows she went too far and reflects the worrying distance we are developing with our Five Eyes partners.We shouldn’t be pandering to the CCP, but should instead show solidarity and support to our democratic allies, especially Australia which has recently been the recipient of sanctions from China.
“ACT believes NZ should strengthen ties with our democratic allies. The minister’s speech has damaged NZ’s international reputation and she should be in damage control.”
Across the Tasman there were much sharper reactions, particularly from commentators on the right. By far the most critical was Robert Bolt, who led in this way:
“We have evidence that woke politics is making the west desperately weak after NZ’s Foreign Affairs Minister refused to criticise China on COVID-19’s origins or on the treatment of Hong Kong and its activists.
“As I’ve said before, NZ is selling out Australia – and the West – to keep sweet with the genocidal Chinese dictatorship.NZ figures other democracies can do the fighting. NZ can meanwhile sweet talk China and clean up businesswise.
‘‘But it may be worse than that. I think woke culture is also to blame. NZ’s foreign minister is dizzy with her new age earth worship and old nature gods. For her, China is an ally in the fight against global warming, which seems to her far more important”.
On an earlier show, Bolt referred to NZ’s government as “sucking up to the Chinese dictatorship” after our government refused to join 14 other countries challenging the World Health Organisation’s report on the origins of COVID-19. help the dictatorship. On that show Bolt said :
“New Zealanders, I love your country, but are you proud that you have a prime minister that sells out your friends to please a dictator?” .
The Australian Financial Review was more moderate in its report, though there was an implied criticism in the intro:
“NZ has told Australia and its other Five Eyes partners the US, Canada and the UK that it is ‘uncomfortable’ about expanding the role of the grouping beyond intelligence sharing, as Wellington tries to avoid a breakdown in its relationship with China.
“In an acknowledgement of NZ’s difficult strategic environment, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the Ardern government was becoming “more alert to the values that differentiate” Wellington from Beijing, citing concerns on Hong Kong, the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and cyber attacks.”
The address was delivered on Monday as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and International Development and the Pacific Minister Zed Seselja prepared to visit NZ for three days of talks.
The AFR noted less than three months ago that NZ Trade Minister Damien O’Connor set off a Trans-Tasman storm — widely reported in China’s state-controlled media — after he said Australia “should follow us and show respect” to improve its relationship with President Xi Jinping’s administration.”
Beijing’s wide-ranging campaign of trade coercion on Australia has been closely watched by many in government and business in New Zealand.
Mahuta made several indirect references to Beijing’s actions in her speech, which explained the Ardern government’s approach to managing its relationship with an increasingly assertive China.
In January, NZ upgraded its free-trade agreement with China, the world’s second-biggest economy that last week recorded its fastest rate of first-quarter growth.
Mahuta warned her audience:
“It is prudent not to put all eggs into a single basket.”
She also called on Beijing to show “respect and engagement” to other countries, although she did not name Australia or any other nation directly.
“As a significant power, the way that China treats its partners is important for us,” she said.
We may suppose this and everything else in the speech has the PM’s blessing. Jacinda Ardern has been remarkably quiet since her Foreign Minister delivered the speech and our allies reacted.