China's best friend in the Pacific?
In a broad-ranging speech on New Zealand’s relationship with China to the New Zealand China Council on Monday, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, said the South Pacific country will not join its intelligence-sharing allies in the Five Eyes network (the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia) in criticizing China through joint foreign policy statements. Australia, in particular, has been keen for New Zealand to take a more forceful international position against China, New Zealand’s most significant trading partner with which it upgraded a free trade agreement in January. Australia’s foreign minister arrives in New Zealand tomorrow for talks on a host of international and bilateral issues, including China.
Not so fast . . .
While Minister Mahuta suggested New Zealand shares a close relationship with China not shared by New Zealand’s traditional allies, she also raised concerns about China’s loan agreements with small Pacific nations, asserting that growing indebtedness is detrimental to the long-term economic resilience of Pacific countries. Mahuta welcomed China’s potential role in building economic recovery and resilience in the Pacific, but through greater overseas development assistance rather than loan finance. She called for a more sustainable and resilient Pacific region that builds peoples’ capacities and respects sovereignties.
A win-win relationship and trade diversification . . .
Minister Mahuta characterized the New Zealand-Sino relationship as one in which each side respects the other, acknowledges differences, and sees opportunities for co-operation. But she encouraged New Zealand companies to take a purposeful approach to diversifying their international trade partners and not to put all of their eggs in the China basket. The Minister also acknowledged the necessity of speaking out publicly on issues of disagreement with China, such as on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and maintained that New Zealand would continue to raise other issues privately with China.