Wellington faces pressure from US, but shouldn’t sacrifice its interests: analysts
China calls on NZ to resist external influence
Published: May 25, 2021 10:23 PM
A man walks along a wharf in Wellington, capital of New Zealand, on September 22, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

A man walks along a wharf in Wellington, capital of New Zealand, on September 22, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

 China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday praised China-New Zealand bilateral relations based on mutual respect and interests and urged the country to shrug off external disruptions to jointly advance the relationship and expand areas of cooperation, after the New Zealand Foreign Minister reportedly warned of a potential "storm" in trade cooperation.

The remarks from New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Monday showed increasingly common anxiety among some small countries as the US continues to push for an ideology-based confrontation with China and reflected the mounting pressure and difficulties posed by the US-led clique for Wellington to pursue a balanced approach between major powers, Chinese analysts said.

In an interview with the Guardian published on Monday, Mahuta said that if Australia is "close to an eye of the storm or in the eye of the storm, we've got to legitimately ask ourselves - it may only be a matter of time before the storm gets closer to us."

Mahuta further suggested that New Zealand exporters need to think about diversification in the context of COVID-19, "broadening relationships across our region, and the buffering aspects of if something significant happened with China. Would they be able to withstand the impact?"

Asked about Mahuta's remarks on Tuesday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that China and New Zealand are important partners and the sustained development of bilateral ties has been based on mutual respect, trust and win-win benefits. 

"It is hoped that New Zealand will continue to uphold the spirit of striving for the first place, and the principles of mutual respect and equal treatment, to meet China halfway, enlarge the pie of cooperation, eliminate external interference, and jointly advance the China-New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership," Zhao told a routine press conference in Beijing.

China and New Zealand have enjoyed a steady relationship and rapidly growing bilateral trade in recent years, due largely to Wellington's relatively independent approach toward China from the US-led Five Eye alliance's relentless aggression and political attacks against China. Most notably, New Zealand has so far refrained from joining the US and others in repeating the widely-debunked claim of genocide in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

In 2020, China-New Zealand trade reached $18.1 billion, up 311 percent from 2008 when the two countries first signed a free trade agreement (FTA). China and New Zealand in January agreed to further upgrade the FTA, under which 96 percent of New Zealand exports to China enjoy no tariffs, to expand cooperation in more areas such as e-commerce, competition policies, government procurement and environment. 

That is in stark contrast to the deteriorating trade ties between China and Australia due the latter's constant provocation against China, which suspended economic dialogues with Australia indefinitely in early May after the latter unilaterally tore up Australian state of Victoria's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreements with China. A wide range of Australian exports to China has also suffered from the near frozen relationship.

However, the remarks from the New Zealand Foreign Minister reflected mounting pressure the country faces from the US-led clique and delicate choices officials in Wellington face in pursuing a balanced approach in the escalating rivalry between major powers, Chinese analysts noted.

"Right-wing forces in the West have raised the China-US disputes to the height of collective Western hegemony over the world, and have been pushing New Zealand to join the [big campaign against China]," Yu Lei, chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries at Liaocheng University in East China's Shandong Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday, adding that it creates a lot of pressure on Wellington to change its stance toward China.

While China firmly opposes politicizing trade issues, some in the West are constantly trying to put ideological and political bias above almost anything, including mutually beneficial economic and trade cooperation - which is the chief factor behind apparent anxiety among New Zealand officials and businesses over potential disruptions to trade, analysts said.

While Mahuta called for diversification in New Zealand exports, some exporters are aware of the importance of China's market for a wide range of products. In an opinion piece on New Zealand news website on Tuesday, Craig Hickman, a dairy farm manager, argued that New Zealand is "too small to forget its reliance on China," refuting certain politicians' suggestion that the country should forget about trade and declare a genocide in Xinjiang. 

Chinese experts also believe that New Zealand would still value the Chinese market, which accounts for about 80 percent of its exports, and should not easily sacrifice its own interests for the sake of the US. 

"China would not politicize trade. New Zealand shouldn't have concerns in this regard… what it might worry more about is competition" from countries that have similar exports portfolios, including the US, which has signed a phase one trade agreement with China, Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday.