Wellington: A senior New Zealand minister advised Australia to adopt his country’s calm approach to China on Thursday, a rare public disagreement between the two neighbors over how to handle a more assertive Beijing.
Comments – That echoed the complaints of the Chinese government – Canberra is likely to anger, as the various approaches toward China by New Zealand and its intelligence partners reveal the “Five Eyes” of Australia, the United States, Canada and Britain.
In a sign of Wellington’s recent success in trade talks with China, Commerce Secretary Damian O’Connor urged Australia to show more “respect” to Beijing.
“I cannot speak on behalf of Australia and the way it conducts its diplomatic relations, but it is clear that if they are going to follow us and show respect, I think more diplomacy from time to time and be careful with the wording, then they can also hope you are in a similar situation.”
The Australian Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on O’Connor’s advice.
New Zealand’s captive approach is reflected in its reluctance to sign joint statements from Five Eyes partners criticizing China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic movement, including the recent arrests of activists in the city.
New Zealand officials have also taken care not to directly question China’s growing influence in the Pacific, unlike their counterparts in the United States and Australia.
Critics say Wellington’s policy toward China places economic benefits above democratic values, something the New Zealand government has denied.
“We’ve always been able to raise issues of concern,” O’Connor told CNBC on Wednesday in the wake of a free trade promotion that took more than four years to negotiate.
O’Connor said the new agreement would reduce tariffs on New Zealand goods entering China, its largest market with bilateral trade amounting to NZ $ 32 billion annually.
In return, China imposed punitive duties on more than a dozen Australian imports, including wine and barley, as relations deteriorated.
Irritants from Beijing include Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19 and a ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei’s participation in the country’s 5G network.
The Chinese state newspaper Global Times said on Wednesday that New Zealand and Australia’s approaches to Beijing were “fire and ice”, accusing Canberra of a “cold war chauvinistic mentality” while New Zealand was “relatively open to the rise of China”.