Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has urged New Zealand to diversify its trade arrangements and not put all its eggs in one basket with China.
Mahuta has also raised concerns about loan arrangements between China and other Pacific nations.
The comments were made in a keynote speech at the New Zealand China Council meeting in Wellington yesterday.
China has been the country’s largest trading partner since 2017.
“This is a relationship in which all New Zealanders have an interest, and it is a relationship that the government approaches keeping in mind all New Zealanders’ long-term interests,” Mahuta said.
She noted the recent upgrade to the country’s fair trade agreement with China which would modernise the existing agreement and deliver “new benefits for New Zealand businesses”.
However, she noted it was “prudent not to put all the eggs in a single basket”.
Concern over Pacific ‘indebtedness’
The minister also expressed her concern over the potential indebtedness of Pacific nations to China.
In regards to the Pacific Reset, she said economic vulnerability was a major risk to the future of the region.
“China can play a role in the long-term economic recovery and resilience of the region, but there is a substantial difference between financing loans and contributing to greater ODI investment in particular to the Pacific.
“We must move towards a more sustainable Pacific that respects the manner of the Pacific sovereignties and builds on Pacific peoples’ own capabilities towards long-term resilience,” Mahuta said.
There were some topics that New Zealand and China did not, could not, and would not agree on, she said.
Mahuta said New Zealand had raised matters privately with China on many occasions.
However, she said sometimes it would be necessary to speak publicly, giving Hong Kong, Xinjiang and cyber “incidents” as examples.
She said New Zealand would take a consistent approach through diplomacy and dialogue, but New Zealand would not ignore the country’s actions if they conflicted with its commitment to universal human rights.
Speech ‘unusual’ – China expert
University of Canterbury’s Professor Anne-Marie Brady said the listing of concerns by the minister was “very unusual” for New Zealand.
“We haven’t seen anything like that before, the closest you can get to it is last year at the New Zealand China Council annual business conference, the prime minister in the midst of a speech all about how wonderful trade is then inserted a paragraph criticising China for its human rights behaviour.
“That got very strong pushback from the the ambassador from China,” she said.
Brady said New Zealand was under a lot of pressure from China.
“Our diplomats are getting regular demarche regular statements of concern, face to face and other small states are also getting a lot of pressure.
“I suspect this is pre-emptive, that New Zealand is telling China ‘we are going to disagree with you on some points’, and they’re trying to be clear and consistent about that.”
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.