Scott Morrison has taken aim at Beijing after meeting his New Zealand counterpart, who could play a key role in thawing relations between China and Australia. Scott Morrison has accused outside influences of dividing Australia and New Zealand in the Indo-Pacific in pointed comments aimed at China.
On Monday, the prime minister met with NZ counterpart Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown, with the bitter Australia-China trade dispute dominating their wide-ranging discussions.
Speaking alongside Ms. Ardern, Mr. Morrison said the Indo-Pacific was increasingly defined by strategic competition between the US and China but decreased the prospect of war in the region.
“Of course, the world is uncertain. Of course, the world has risks of conflict and tension,” he said.
“We acknowledge the realities of strategic competition but do not accept as any foregone conclusions where that competition may lead to.” New Zealand updated its Free Trade Agreement with China in February, as the country’s Trade Minister Damien O’Connor urged Australia to “show respect, (and) a little more diplomacy” towards Beijing. The development came as tensions between China and Australia intensified after Beijing slapped trade sanctions on a range of Australian products, seemingly in response to the federal government’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.
But Mr. Morrison denied New Zealand had undermined the trans-Tasman relationship, insisting “neither of us would ever trade our sovereignty or trade our values”.
“As great partners, friends, allies, and deep family, there will be those far from here who would seek to divide us. They will not succeed,” he said.
“I have no doubt there will be those who would seek to undermine Australia and New Zealand’s security by seeking to create points of difference, which are not there.”
Ms. Ardern also pushed back on claims New Zealand had taken a soft stance on the Indo-Pacific, rejecting a journalist’s suggestion Wellington had “cozied up” to Beijing.
“(I) strongly refute the assertion that we are doing anything other than maintaining a very principled position on human rights issues, on trade issues, as they relate to China,” she said. “In fact, I think you’ll find very little difference in many of the messages that we’ve been sending relative to Australia.”
Ms. Ardern said New Zealand’s commitment to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, including Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US, was “not in question, not in doubt”. Her comments came weeks after the Biden administration pledged not to leave Australia “alone on the pitch” as it faced economic coercion from Beijing.
“We have each other’s backs so we can face threats and challenges from a position of collective strength,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. Earlier, Australia welcomed New Zealand’s offer to act as a third-party mediator in the trade stoush, taken to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).