Australia, New Zealand Contend with China Challenges

Beijing-Canberra relations sour further on economic, diplomatic fronts . . . 

Today, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced that all activities under the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue have been suspended indefinitely. The NDRC said the rupture was a reaction to Canberra’s actions motivated by a “cold war mindset and ideological discrimination.” This is the latest in a series of frosty developments in the bilateral relationship since Australia called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Earlier this week, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, announced the opening of two new embassies in Pacific countries – French Polynesia and the Marshall Islands – as Canberra seeks to counter China’s increasing influence in the region. Meanwhile, reports have emerged of Chinese plans to construct an airstrip on the island nation of Kiribati, located about midway between Australia and California.

New Zealand Parliament wrapped in knots on Xinjiang genocide motion . . .

In Wellington, the issue of genocide in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is causing domestic and international controversy. New Zealand’s Parliament passed a motion that urged action against “severe human rights abuses” in the region, with the term “genocide” being removed from the motion at the eleventh hour, a softening of terminology proposed by the governing Labour Party. Critics in New Zealand are characterizing the result as the government bending to pressure from China. Beijing has lashed out, saying the resolution would "harm the mutual trust" between the two countries. China is New Zealand’s number one export destination, purchasing more than one-quarter of New Zealand exports.

Common challenges, differing responses?

Australia’s economic reliance on China is even deeper than New Zealand’s, so both Canberra and Wellington have much to lose with economic retaliation from Beijing. In the last year, Beijing has hit Australia with huge new levies on key exports, while New Zealand has not. New Zealand did not join Australia, the U.S., EU, U.K., and Canada in April in announcing sanctions against Chinese authorities over actions in Xinjiang. However, it did join in condemning the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. And in a recent speech, New Zealand’s Prime Minister admitted that reconciling differences between the two countries’ interests and values was becoming increasingly difficult.