In a sad reflection of New Zealand's undermining of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, the Pacific nation just refused to join its four closest allies in condemning China's repression in Hong Kong.
Responding to the Chinese Communist Party's Kristallnacht-style crackdown in Hong Kong last week, the U.S., Australian, British, and Canadian foreign ministers released a joint statement on Saturday. These four of the Five Eyes partners offered "serious concern at the mass arrests of 55 politicians and activists in Hong Kong for subversion under the National Security Law." Noting that the law "is a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and undermines the 'One Country, Two Systems' framework," the ministers suggested that "it is crucial that the postponed [Hong Kong] Legislative Council elections in September proceed in a fair way that includes candidates representing a range of political opinions."
These are strong words made even stronger by their common offering from four of the world's greatest democracies. But the statement would have been far more compelling had New Zealand joined it. That Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government refused to support the statement is shameful. More than that, Ardern's failure greatly undermines her frequently offered assertion that New Zealand is a global leader for human rights.
- Conspiracy theories claiming US voting software rigged NZ election debunked
- China's 'appalling' year for human rights criticised in new report
- NZ stakes out independent position in criticism of Hong Kong arrests
- Why we should join Australia in case against China
So what's going on here?
Well, sharing the European Union's voracious appetite for Chinese trade and investments, New Zealand has matched the EU's political appeasement of Beijing. Such appeasement is demanded by China in return for its economic beneficence. But it comes with ever-increasing costs. In recent years, New Zealand has come under escalating overt and covert pressure to distance itself from the Five Eyes alliance. This pressure campaign has become an increasing Chinese priority over the past 12 months, as Beijing's tensions with the United States and Australia have soared.
Wellington has not helped itself here by allowing more egregious examples of Chinese interference to go unchallenged. Its tolerance of a Chinese intelligence officer's infiltration of its Parliament is the most absurd example of this dynamic. You read that right: New Zealand let a Chinese intelligence officer serve in its actual Parliament. Though, in Ardern's partial defense, China's espionage efforts have had the most impact on the opposition National Party, not Ardern's party. Still, as with its Hong Kong silence, it's not just what Ardern's government has done, it's what it hasn't done that matters. The absence of New Zealand's navy — it has two vessels capable of operating at range — from the South China Sea bears note, for example.
The bottom line: New Zealand has fed the rising perception in Washington that while its intelligence services remain staffed by talented patriots and allies, its government can no longer be trusted to safeguard the most sensitive American intelligence. The U.S. has also noticed the argument by influential New Zealanders that their government should now act as intermediary between the U.S. and China rather than an ally to the former.
Put simply, New Zealand's silence on Hong Kong is a symptom of a much deeper and more worrisome problem.