New Zealand Opposition Leader Blames UK, US for Increasing Role of China in Indo-Pacific
05:48 GMT 02.10.2021 (Updated: 18:49 GMT 19.10.2022)
China is NZ's largest trade partner and this complicates the Ardern government's stance on China-related issues, such as alleged human right abuses in Xinjang. The nation's opposition believes NZ has had no choice but to steer a more delicate course as the UK and US failed to adopt free trade deals in the area, leaving the "door open" for Beijing.
One of the reasons China has gained momentum in the Indo-Pacific region of late is the failure of the US and UK to adopt free trade agreements in the region, which could have reduced Chinese influence, Judith Collins, the leader of New Zealand's National Party said in an interview with The Guardian, published on 2 October.
"If any criticism comes to New Zealand, as it often does about this close relationship with China and trade, my answer to everybody – whether they're the US or UK – is: 'So where's our free trade agreement?'", the politician was cited by The Guardian as saying.
Once the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, there was an "open gate" for Beijing, the official stressed.
China then naturally increased its footprint in the region, becoming New Zealand's largest trade partner. At present, Beijing accounts for about a third of total exports from New Zealand.
"Stop judging New Zealand by the fact that we are a little country at the bottom of the world who has to trade. That's how we do it. That's how we pay for everything we need", Collins added.
Collins' remarks come as New Zealand has been repeatedly criticised for its "soft" stance on China when it comes to such sensitive topics as Uyghurs' rights, the Hong Kong democracy movement, or territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Tensions in relations between Beijing and the West escalated in late March after the EU, along with Canada, the UK, and the US, introduced a series of sanctions against Chinese citizens and organisations over alleged poor human rights records and what they perceive as persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang. China has repeatedly denied being engaged in any abuses in Xinjiang and says it has established vocational training centres in the region to address religious extremism there.
New Zealand is part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a major free-trade bloc made up of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The agreement, however, may soon expand. Britain has engaged in talks on joining the CPTPP as London is seeking to join a free trade agreement following its departure from the European Union in December 2020. Notably, China is also on the list of countries that submitted applications to join the agreement.
The partnership accounts for 13% of global Gross Domestic Product.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership was initially signed in 2016, when 12 countries signed on: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Chile, and Peru. Within the framework of the agreement, it was planned to create a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific. However, in January 2017, US President Donald Trump signed a decree withdrawing America from the agreement, after which the remaining 11 TPP countries formed the CPTPP, which was signed on 8 March 2018, in Chile.