New Zealand backs out of 'Five Eyes' intelligence network's 'China-watch' over fear


Beijing divides and rules: New Zealand backs out of 'Five Eyes' intelligence network's 'China-watch' over fears it will hit country's trade partnership

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington earlier this month. Her foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta yesterday set out New Zealand's new position on Five Eyes, rejecting a new direction which it had pledged to take along with its allies

New Zealand has said it will no longer confront China over human rights as part of the 'Five Eyes' intelligence network, reversing an earlier commitment to its allies.

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said New Zealand was 'uncomfortable' with pressuring Beijing and wanted to pursue its own relationship with its largest trading partner.

The intelligence sharing alliance, formalised during the Cold War, last year began issuing statements condemning China's human rights record.

Defence ministers from Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand agreed on this expanded remit last May to 'advance their shared values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.'

The prospect of New Zealand being removed from the Five Eyes network has been raised in the past, with Peter Mattis - a former CIA China expert - saying in 2018 the country 'denied there's a problem' when it comes to China.

Mahuta, speaking to reporters after a speech on China, confirmed that the other members of Five Eyes had been notified of Wellington's changed position.

'It's a matter that we have raised with Five Eyes partners, that we are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes relationship, that we would much rather prefer looking for multilateral opportunities to express our interests on a number of issues,' she said.

China has accused Five Eyes of ganging up on it by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Speaking on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping condemned countries for 'arrogantly' interfering in the affairs of others.

Without naming any country, Xi said: 'The destiny and future of the world should be decided by all nations, and rules set up just by one or several countries should not be imposed on others ... the whole world should not be led by unilateralism of individual countries.'

He added: 'Equality, mutual respect and trust should be at the forefront when countries are dealing with each other. It is unpopular to arrogantly instruct others and interfere in internal affairs.'

It comes amid coordinated sanctions on Beijing from the US, the European Union, Britain and Canada over human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang, which China denies.

But for Australia and New Zealand, which are more reliant on China for trade, the issue of condemning the neighbour is more thorny.

A recent US statement announcing sanctions against Chinese officials implicated in Xinjiang mistakenly included Australia in the list of countries imposing them.

Australia and New Zealand were forced to issue a separate statement announcing concerns about Xinjiang but without announcing sanctions of their own.

In November, after Five Eyes criticism of Beijing's actions in Hong Kong, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: 'No matter if they have five eyes or ten eyes, as soon as they dare to harm China's sovereignty, security or development interests, they should be careful lest their eyes be poked blind.'

Mahuta said that Wellington will 'not invoke the Five Eyes as the first point of contact on messaging out on a range of issues that really exist outside the remit of Five Eyes.'

In a statement to Reuters on Tuesday, Mahuta said the Five Eyes remained vital for New Zealand for intelligence, police, border security, defence and cyber cooperation.

'New Zealand is a real beneficiary of the arrangement and will continue to actively engage with the Five Eyes alliance as we always have,' she said.

'There will be some areas on which it's useful to coordinate through the Five Eyes platform; but there will be other areas - human rights for example - where we want to look to building a broader coalition of countries to take positions.'


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