Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suggested that China is trying to drive a wedge between Australia and New Zealand, after holding annual talks with Jacinda Ardern.
- Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand and Australia are in “exactly the same place” regarding trade and human rights
- New Zealand has announced it will join Australia’s action against China in the World Trade Organization
- Mr Morrison and Ms Ardern also discussed expanding the trans-Tasman bubble to include Pacific countries, but didn’t make firm commitments
Trans-Tasman tensions have bubbled up recently over how best to deal with Beijing, with New Zealand pushing back against using the “Five Eyes” intelligence group to condemn China’s human rights abuses.
However, both leaders were keen to present a united front on China during a joint press conference in Queenstown.
Ms Ardern bridled at questions from visiting Australian journalists, who asked her if New Zealand was “cosying up” to China.
“At no point in our discussions today did I detect any difference in our relative positions on the importance of maintaining a strong and principled perspective on issues around trade and human rights,” she said.
“[We] have been broadly positioned on exactly the same place on these issues consistently.”
Chinese state media have pounced on the disagreement over Five Eyes, suggesting that New Zealand has a more “sober” approach to dealing with China’s government.
When asked about the editorials, Mr Morrison said had “no doubt” that some would “seek to undermine Australia and New Zealand’s security by seeking to create points of difference which are not there”.
“There will be those far from here who would seek to divide us, and they will not succeed,” Mr Morrison said.
Reporters followed up by asking Mr Morrison which countries he was referring to, but he wouldn’t be drawn.
Australia and NZ united over trade, COVID-19 investigation
There has been some frustration in Canberra over the Five Eyes disagreement.
There was also a brief flare of irritation earlier this year when New Zealand’s Trade Minister suggested Australia could repair ties with China by showing its government more respect.
But government sources from both countries have emphasised that both sides recognise the sharp threat posed by China’s recent campaign of economic coercion against Australia.
On the weekend New Zealand also announced that it would join Australia’s action in the World Trade Organisation challenging crippling Chinese tariffs on Australian barley.
And both Mr Morrison and Ms Ardern made it clear they would maintain pressure on China to facilitate the World Health Organization probes into the origins of COVID-19 and the global response to the outbreak.
“We’d be concerned at any suggestion that we weren’t able complete that work,” Ms Ardern said.
“Because as an international community how will we better protect ourselves from further outbreaks in the future if we don’t better protect ourselves.”
Mr Morrison said the probe had “nothing to do with global politics”, but was crucial to get to the bottom of the outbreak “so we can do everything we possibly can to ensure that it does not happen again.”
Deportations and trans-Tasman bubble raised
The two leaders also said they discussed the vexed issue of criminal deportations from Australia to New Zealand, although Scott Morrison reiterated his government would not soften its stance.
They also discussed the case of Suhayra Aden, who travelled to Syria from Australia in 2014 to live under Islamic State.
Australia stripped Ms Aden of citizenship, even though she moved from New Zealand to Australia when she was just six years old.
That drew a furious response from Ms Ardern, who accused Australia of evading its responsibilities.
Ms Aden is still in detention in Turkey — and now looks almost certain to be resettled in New Zealand — but today Mr Morrison suggested Australia might still be able to offer support to her young children.
“Ms Aden’s not an Australian citizen. But we have spoken today about her children, and the pathway that they have for eligibility in Australia, and stand ready to address those issues,” he said.
They also discussed expanding the trans-Tasman bubble to include Pacific Island countries, although neither made any firm commitments, emphasising that public health remained the top priority.
Ms Ardern said it was vital not to give COVID-19 a chance to spread more widely in the region.
“That means maintaining the very high bar that between ourselves we have set,” she said.