New Zealand and China in December are to mark 50th years since they established formal diplomatic relations.
However, New Zealand has always had different views from China on human rights, the rule of law and security issues, and is becoming concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific region.
Speaking at a NATO summit in Madrid on June 29, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and stressed the importance of the international rules-based order, adding that China has become more assertive and willing to challenge international norms.
On July 1, Ardern met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, where they discussed Ukraine and security cooperation. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the leaders reiterated their support for free navigation in the South China Sea and stressed the importance of security and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
This is not the first time that Ardern has talked about the “Taiwan Strait issue” in international forums as she seeks to remind democracies to keep an eye on China’s military threat to Taiwan, while most are focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She wants the world to see that the Taiwan Strait situation is a major global security issue with the potential for sparking war.
New Zealand is a highly developed democracy with a long history of close economic and trade ties with China. In November 2014, New Zealand and China formally established a comprehensive strategic partnership, and in March 2017 they signed a Belt and Road Initiative cooperation agreement, making New Zealand the first advanced Western country to support the initiative.
As of 2012, China was New Zealand’s top trading partner, accounting for about 30 percent of New Zealand’s exports.
Even though it is dependent on China for trade, New Zealand knows it must not let its guard down as China expands its military power around the world. In July 2018, the New Zealand Ministry of Defence released its Strategic Defence Policy Statement, which said that China is destabilizing the region and threatening New Zealand’s national defense.
New Zealand has been cooperating with Australia, the US and other countries in the past few years and held joint military exercises to prevent China’s military expansion in the Pacific. Its naval vessels are now allowed to berth at US ports and bases. In June, New Zealand participated in US Indo-Pacific Command-led military exercises in the Pacific Ocean.
According to media reports, New Zealand’s hardening attitude toward China is due in part to Beijing’s growing influence in the South Pacific and the secretive signing of a bilateral security cooperation agreement between Beijing and the Solomon Islands in April.
New Zealand, which values human rights and the rule of law, has taken a tough stance on the Russian invasion, not only imposing sanctions on Moscow, but also by providing defense support to Europe.
Wellington has previously only rarely touched on Taiwan issues, but it has started to pay attention to the Taiwan Strait situation following the Russian invasion and has raised its alert to China, warning democracies around the world to be prepared for a crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
China, an authoritarian country like Russia, might misjudge the situation, break international rules or take the opportunity to create a military conflict and launch a war against Taiwan.
Yao Chung-yuan is a professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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