OPINION / VIEWPOINT
Wellington continues its pragmatic policy despite Canberra pressure
Published: May 31, 2021 11:20 PM
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) receives a traditional hongi greeting from New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (center) as he arrives for a welcoming ceremony during his visit in Queenstown, New Zealand, on Sunday. A hongi is a traditional form of greeting in which two people press their noses against each other and inhale one another's breath. Photo: AFP

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) receives a traditional hongi greeting from New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (center) as he arrives for a welcoming ceremony during his visit in Queenstown, New Zealand, on Sunday. A hongi is a traditional form of greeting in which two people press their noses against each other and inhale one another's breath. Photo: AFP

Different from the other four Five Eyes countries, New Zealand has been declining to join an anti-China chariot, and this has obviously disappointed some Australian elites. A split between Australia and New Zealand is not something that China wishes to see. Yet some Australian people clearly want to pressure New Zealand to jointly oppose China. For example, after the release of a joint statement on Monday between the prime ministers of New Zealand and Australia, there are voices that try to hype the anti-China atmosphere and rope in New Zealand. 

But in the 51-point joint statement, only several items are related to China: The two prime ministers expressed "serious concern" over developments in the South China Sea, and "deep concern" over "the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong" as well as the so-called human rights issues in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The statement also expressed concern over harmful economic coercion, without referring to any specific country. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday, in response to the joint statement, that China firmly opposes gross interference in China's internal affairs. Nonetheless, the joint statement between Canberra and Wellington did not really exceed the previous position of New Zealand regarding China-related issues. The statement was more intended to show the two sides' general unity. And by including these China-related issues in the statement, New Zealand was showing some respect and support for Australia's feelings, instead of blindly joining an anti-China chariot.

There are a lot differences between Australia and New Zealand in terms of their attitude toward China. Since 2017, Australia has severely provoked China in many ways. These include hyping up the so-called Chinese political infiltration into Australia, banning Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, and attacking China over issues regarding the COVID-19 epidemic origin, the South China Sea and the Belt and Road Initiative. Canberra's behavior has caused severe deterioration of bilateral relations.

New Zealand holds a more practical approach in terms of relations with China. China-New Zealand relations are rather stable with the joint efforts of both countries. New Zealand has also in the past made statements on the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, something that is difficult to avoid as a member of the Five Eyes alliance. 

Australia has been irrational in its handling of relations with China, including using "microphone diplomacy" to provoke China for no reason. New Zealand is much more rational. In many cases, Wellington has been able to communicate with Beijing through diplomatic channels. Judging from the history of China-New Zealand ties, Wellington has adhered to pragmatism in developing its relations with China. Even when the US and Australia's China policies have taken a sharp turn for worse, New Zealand did not blindly follow suit to suppress China.

For this reason, in recent years, Australia has been exerting pressure on New Zealand. Some Australian media outlets have even accused New Zealand of selling its "soul" to China for economic interests. New Zealand and Australia have close cooperation in diplomacy and military matters. As a result, Australia has a great influence on New Zealand. 

 China-related issues are not the only reason why Morrison paid a visit to New Zealand this time. The meeting is an annual meeting of the two prime ministers, and is part of institutionalized exchanges between the two sides. In the two countries' joint statement, they reached a broad consensus on the COVID-19 response and recovery, trans-Tasman cooperation, people-to-people ties, climate change and the environment, global trade, Indo-Pacific and global security, etc - a long list of achievements after their meeting. Australia-New Zealand bilateral relations and cooperation are the main content of this statement, and China-related issues are obviously not a major part of it - as some Australian media have sensationalized for obvious political purposes. 

The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn
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