Jacinda Ardern: We are not choosing between US and China

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected a suggestion that New Zealand’s statements on Five Eyes and China had created a strain with the United States.

“None of my interactions have suggested there is any such strain. I would reject that.”

And she said New Zealand was not choosing China over the United States.

“We have never been in the position of choosing sides. We have always been on the side of New Zealand’s interests and New Zealand values.”

Ardern also said the Labour caucus expected to discuss next Tuesday the Act Party’s motion it plans to bring to Parliament on labelling China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang “genocide.”

She made her comments to New Zealand reporters after a video conference session with the US Chamber of Commerce, hosted by executive vice-president Myron Brilliant, during which the issue of Five Eyes was raised by an Australian reporter for Axios.

The Five Eyes issue was raised last week when Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said New Zealand was uncomfortable using the intelligence and security network (Australia, Canada, NZ, US and UK) as the first point of reference for New Zealand’s messaging around human rights and China.

It raised an outcry from commentators and politicians particularly based in Britain, including former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage.

Ardern said in her session with the US Chamber of Commerce that New Zealand did not rule out signing up to future Five Eyes statements but it was more interested in getting broader support.

“Our view is that we should continue to encourage a range of different platforms for countries for issues be it Myanmar, be it China to continue to raise those concerns.

“In some cases that might be through the UN. In others it may be as individual countries.

“New Zealand Australia havejointly joined together in recent times. In others, it may well be coalitions under the platform of say Five Eyes.”

But what was most important was the principle was to share New Zealand’s views openly when it saw issues counter to its interests and values.

“They are of course support for international rules and norms and the importance to us of human rights and democracy. And that takes precedence over everything.”

She said New Zealand was proud of its independent foreign policy.

“We have never chosen partners perse. We have always chosen to stand on our values which are strongly embedded in the importance of democracy and human rights.”

She also reiterated that she had raised the issue of the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang directly with the leadership in China in Beijing.

Speaking to reporters afterwards she was asked about Act’s intention to move a motion when Parliament resumes next week asking Parliament to debate a motion declaring China’s oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang an act of “genocide.”

Ardern said the act of declaring genocide was governed by a set of international criteria and definitions and New Zealand had done it only three occasions: the Holocaust in the Second World War; the massacre of Tutsi in Rwanda and the killing fields conducted by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

“Because there is process there that is defined by international definition, the New Zealand Government has not taken that step at this stage,” said Ardern. “What has been put before us as Parliament, however, is a different question.

“The New Zealand Labour Party is yet to consider its position but I expect we will do that as part of our caucus meeting the next time we meet.”

That is a similar process that has taken place in other Westminster parliamentary systems. In Britain and Canada, the respective Parliaments have voted without dissent to declare China’s treatment of the Uighur as genocide, but the Governments have not taken a position.

Ardern took part in the US Chamber of Commerce from the Auckland CBD via video conference.

It was billed as a conversation on her priorities for its year hosting Apec, climate and sustainability, Covid-19 response and recovery and New Zealand’s hopes for United States’ engagement in the region.

Ardern appeared last week at President Joe Biden’s climate change virtual summit which included the leaders of China, Xi Jinping, and Russia, Vladimir Putin.

She said it was important to see the large countries taking part as well and climate policy needed continuity.

“The globe cannot afford yo-yoing of climate policy,” she said.

She also said she welcomed Biden’s move to hold a Democracy Summit later in the year and the opportunity for dialogue that would bring.

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