New Zealand urged to 'desist from undermining China's growing influence'

Another article in a Chinese newspaper has drawn attention to New Zealand's shaky relationship with China, warning against the Government's "unethical" behaviour towards Huawei.

The article, published in the Global Times, considered a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, says the New Zealand Government's recent actions go against our interests.

"Blocking Chinese high-tech companies is not only unethical, but also runs counter to the interests of New Zealand," it says, adding: "Blindly following the US in containing Huawei will end up in New Zealand hurting itself."

It was written by Yu Lei, chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries at Liaocheng University in China. He's written other articles about China's relationship with Australia, also criticising the country's stance on banning Huawei's equipment.

The article followed another piece earlier this month published in the China People's Daily, also considered a mouthpiece of the Chinese state, which claimed tourists are turning away from New Zealand.

New Zealand's relationship with China appears to have soured. The 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism launch set to take place at Wellington's Te Papa museum was postponed by China earlier this month, citing scheduling issues.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's planned trip to Beijing last year was also put on hold, prompting suspicion that China may have taken offence to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) warning against Huawei building Spark's 5G mobile network. 

New Zealand telecom operator Spark wanted to start using Huawei cellphone tower equipment from 2020, and notified director-general of the GCSB Andrew Hampton about the proposal, as is required by law.

And after carrying out an assessment, the GCSB in November identified major network security risks if the technology was to be implemented.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the ASEAN Summit in Singapore on November 14, 2018.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the ASEAN Summit in Singapore on November 14, 2018. Photo credit: Getty

When asked if the GCSB's warning had offended China, the Prime Minister said earlier this month that there's "no doubt our relationship with China is complex, there is no doubt the relationship comes with its challenges".

But she said that "doesn't undermine the strength of it, the maturity of it," adding: "On some of things that have been raised to me, like Huawei, which is a decision that's still underway, we need to make sure that we maintain our independent foreign policy".

A stark warning 

It appears China doesn't see it that way. In his article, Mr Lei said New Zealand's relations with China have been sliding ever since the Government took power in October 2017, by joining other Western powers to "undermine Beijing's growing influence". 

He noted the Five Eyes meeting of New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the UK and US that took place in July last year in Nova Scotia, Canada, where Mr Lei alleged a "campaign" was cooked up by the group to "kill Huawei". 

"New Zealand also made an issue of the cooperation between China and the Pacific Island countries, betraying anxiety over Beijing's growing influence in the South Pacific," he said. 

Those who have warned about Chinese influence in New Zealand include University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady, US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mr Lei said New Zealand cannot ignore the importance of trade with China, noting how New Zealand's own government statistics state that two-way trade with China reached NZ$26.1 billion in December 2017. 

"The country has witnessed a rapid growth in exports to China, which has driven the country's trade surplus."

He implied that the only way forward for New Zealand is to recognise how much the country has benefitted from Asian economic development, and stop acting like an "anti-China pawn of the US". 

"Some New Zealand politicians believe that, compared with staunch US allies like Australia, Wellington is only playing second fiddle to the US and China won't take steps against it," he said. 

"Even if the Chinese government doesn't take tit-for-tat action for the sake of bilateral relations, the Chinese public, riled by the hostile moves of the Ardern government, will cold shoulder New Zealand."

The Foreign Affairs Minister has been contacted for comment.