New Zealand opposition leader lashed out at US and UK over China, saying their failure to pass free trade deals was ‘stupid’ and increasing Chinese rule in the Indo-Pacific.

“If criticism is directed at New Zealand, as is often the case with this close relationship with China and trade, my response to everyone – whether American or British – is:” So where is our free trade agreement? “Judith Collins, leader of the national center-right party, said Friday in an interview with the Guardian.

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in 2017 and the US has not joined his replacement, the CPTPP. New Zealand began talks with the UK last year on a post-Brexit free trade deal, but this has yet to be concluded.

Collins said the United States had been “foolish” to withdraw from these free trade agreements. In doing so, Collins said, “What they did was they opened the doors for China to be even more important in the Pacific and Indo-Pacific region. They opened it, and they left the door open, and they finally was stupid to do it. And that actually caused the problem.

“Stop judging New Zealand on the fact that we are a small country at the back of the world that needs to trade. This is how we do it. This is how we pay for everything we need.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner by a substantial margin and accounts for around one-third of total exports. According to the NZ China Council, exports to China last year amounted to $ 16.7 billion, more than New Zealand’s trade with Australia, the United States and Japan – its next three trading partners – united. This has led to speculation that New Zealand is unable to take tough positions on Beijing due to its trade dependency.

The Ardern government has taken a tough line on Chinese issues – making case-by-case statements about human rights violations or encroachments in Hong Kong or the South China Sea, but avoiding tougher and hawkish condemnations from the United States or Australia. He closely followed the experience of its trans-Tasman neighbor: Australia was hit by an extremely costly trade war with China, with huge tariffs on most of its export products.

Professor David Capie, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, said trade was the missing link in US policy in the region.

“Over the past few months, much attention has been paid to the US security role in the Indo-Pacific – for example, the rapidly evolving quad and the new Aukus accord. But for many countries in the region, the missing part of US strategy is trade, ”Capie said.

“If the United States is concerned about the growing influence of China, what alternatives does it offer to the enormous gravitational pull of the Chinese economy? Free trade has always been a delicate issue in American politics, and it has only worsened in recent years. The result is that Washington doesn’t really have a business strategy to support its larger goals.

“Shared values ​​are fine, but they don’t keep the lights on. “

“We are not stupid”

This year, New Zealand, along with Australia, welcomed the coordinated sanctions announced by the UK, US, EU and Canada over Uyghur abuse, but failed to institute their own sanctions. In May, New Zealand refrained from using the word “genocide” in a motion on Xinjiang debated and unanimously passed by parliament – preferring to use more general and watered-down language of “human rights violations.” human rights “.

After statements by Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta that New Zealand was “uncomfortable with expanding the mandate” of the Five Eyes alliance, a British Conservative MP accused Ardern of “sucking China ”, and Australian media said the country had“ sold its soul ”to preserve trade deals.

Collins said the opposition has not joined in the criticism. “We don’t attack them [the government] on it because we know their problem. Their problem is who is going to pay the bills?

Collins said there would be trade repercussions for New Zealand if she spoke out. “The problem is, [when] we go out there and we talk about the Uyghur people and what is clearly a terrible situation, what we know is happening – and we have seen it before – is that all of a sudden there are problems commercial. “

Collins cited the recent example of Zespri, New Zealand’s largest kiwifruit cooperative, having detected Covid-19 on its fruit in China – and strongly implied that the matter was political.

“We’re not stupid, we know what’s going on,” Collins said. When asked if this was political retaliation, she replied, “I don’t know. But I’ve been in politics long enough, and long enough in leadership roles, to know that these things are happening.

Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson told Stuff on Monday that exports continued as normal after the initial detection and all subsequent tests were negative.

Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom announced the new Aukus security pact last month – a pact that New Zealand was particularly absent from and which experts said was an illustration of the distance between the country and its traditional allies.

“Aukus does not include us and does not include Canada, so we were both ignored,” Collins said. “We are being left behind. “

She said she strongly supports New Zealand’s denuclearization policy, which bans nuclear-powered ships – including those built under Aukus – from New Zealand waters. However, she also said: “The information sharing, the artificial intelligence work, the technology sharing agreement being part of Aukus – it was important that we were excluded from this. One would have to ask why Canada and New Zealand were excluded from this part.

Collins languishes in the polls, with just 5% of the vote as preferred prime minister, compared to Jacinda Ardern’s 44%. All parties combined, Labor is at 43% and National at 26%.

The Guardian has contacted the foreign minister’s office for comment.


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