Exclusive: Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi critical of United States 'supporting violence' in Hong Kong

In her first live television interview, the Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand said it is in Aotearoa's interest to see Hong Kong return to "prosperity" while criticising the United States for "supporting violence" in the city.

Wu Xi began her tenure as China's top diplomat in New Zealand in April 2018 and says the relationship between the two countries is "very good", citing strong trade and tourism numbers. China is New Zealand's largest trading partner with two-way trade valued over NZ$28 billion.

Speaking to The AM Show in her first live television interview, Wu said New Zealand and China have differences, but those were outweighed by common interests. 

"Our leaders are very much committed to deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership between our two countries. They reached the consensus during Prime Minister [Jacinda] Ardern's visit to China," Wu said.

"What is important is our two countries respect each other [and] have frequent exchanges while dealing with those differences."

One area of tension recently has been the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong - which is part of China but autonomous with its own leadership.

Protests in the city were prompted by the introduction of legislation that would allow those in the city to be extradited to mainland China for trial. While the Bill is no longer being progressed in Hong Kong, demonstrations - which have become violent - continue against Beijing's influence in the city.

An investigation was launched at the University of Auckland after a Hong Konger in support of the protests was shoved to the ground by a mainland Chinese student.

HONG KONG, CHINA - October 6: Members of media were hit by Molotov cocktail during a clash between protester and police at a demonstration in Wan Chai district on October 6, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong's government invoked emergency powers on Friday to introduce an anti-mask law which bans people from wearing masks at public assemblies as the city remains on edge with the anti-government movement entering its fourth month. Pro-democracy protesters marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Hong Kong as one student protester was shot in the chest in the Tsuen Wan district during with mass demonstrations across Hong Kong. Protesters in Hong Kong continue to call for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to meet their remaining demands since the controversial extradition bill was withdrawn, which includes an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word riot to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage, as the territory faces a leadership crisis. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty.

The Chinese consulate in Auckland praised the "spontaneous patriotism" of the student for defending China, but the New Zealand Government later made it clear to Chinese representatives that peaceful protest and freedom of expression must be upheld in Aotearoa. 

Wu said on Thursday that the Chinese consulate "has a right to express its own views in safeguarding China's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

"At the moment, there are violent protesters in Hong Kong and this has crossed the line of the rule of law, challenged the bottom line of 'one country, two systems' and disrupted the normal order of Hong Kong."

"The central Government strongly supports the Hong Kong SAR Government's efforts in restoring order and ending the violence and the riots."

She said the integrity of Chinese territory was "the most important issue" for China and it opposes "any other country [interfering] in China's internal affairs".

"Most recently, we have seen a lot of US interference in China's internal affairs in regard to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, which we are strongly opposed to," Wu told The AM Show.

"We urge the United States to stop interfering in China's internal affairs and stop supporting violence and the riots in Hong Kong, and stop undermining China's efforts in counter-terrorism."

The United States has repeatedly made comments in support of peaceful protest and freedom of expression in the city, something reiterated by the US Ambassador to NZ Scott Brown on The AM Show earlier this month.

Exclusive: Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi critical of United States 'supporting violence' in Hong Kong
Photo credit: The AM Show / Reuters.

Wu said it was in New Zealand's interest to see "prosperity" in Hong Kong. 

"New Zealand has a close relationship in terms of economy and people to people exchanges in Hong Kong. Continued prosperity and the development in Hong Kong serves the interest of New Zealand," she said.

"Since the return of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China, policies of 'one country, two systems' have been successfully implemented. People in Hong Kong have enjoyed more unprecedented freedom and democracy than any other period under the British rule."

Asked if she could understand concerns of protesters in being extradited to mainland China - which has been accused of having a corrupt justice system aligned to the ruling Communist Party with concentration camps for dissenting individuals - she said she didn't agree.

"I don't think our judicial system is corrupt. We have our own laws and we always act in accordance with law. China is a country ruled by law. No country's judicial system is perfect."

China was critcised by many countries earlier this year for human right abuses in its Xinjiang region. UN experts say at least 1 million Uighurs - a Muslim minority group - have been incarcerated there and forced to reject their faith. New Zealand, along with 21 countries including Japan, Australia, Canada and the UK, issued a joint statement in July condemning the Xinjiang detention centres.

Beijing has consistently rejected such accusations and said camps in Xinjiang were for vocational training and counter-terrorism efforts - something stressed by a Chinese embassy spokesperson to Newshub earlier this month.

"We would like to point out that Xinjiang affairs are purely China's internal affairs that allow no foreign interference. The counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measures in Xinjiang are aimed to eradicate the breeding soil of extremism and terrorism."

A photo from a Xinjiang camp.
A photo from a Xinjiang camp. Photo credit: Supplied.

The spokesperson said they "are in line with Chinese laws and international practises" and supported by all people of various ethnic groups in the region.

"They are also China's contribution to the world with regard to counter-terrorism. 

"The accusations by the US side are merely made-up pretexts, which only further reveals the country's malicious intention to impede the counter-terrorism efforts in Xinjiang and stability and development of China."

Wu's appearance on The AM Show comes after Brown made comments critical of Chinese censorship while also on the morning television programme. 

He said the Chinese Government was attacking freedom of speech, "taking away people's ability to think", and not playing by the rules on the world stage. He didn't view China as an enemy, but a "competitor" that isn't playing by the rules and said the country was stealing intellectual property, manipulating currency and dumping low-cost, low-quality steel onto the world market.

That was sharply rebuffed by the Chinese embassy at the time, which told Newshub Brown's comments were "groundless, irresponsible and distorted". 

Newshub.

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