Suspension of Hong Kong extradition treaty not interference from New Zealand - Winston Peters

China's response to New Zealand suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, accusing Aotearoa of interference, is a "misuse of language", according to Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

In light of China deciding to pass a contentious new national security law in Hong Kong, New Zealand this week suspended its extradition agreement with the semi-autonomous financial hub. How we treat the export of sensitive goods to Hong Kong has also been changed, as has travel advice, which now includes information about the security law. 

The new legislation has been condemned internationally as it allows those in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial and gives Beijing a greater role in the city's judicial system. 

"New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong's criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China. If China in future shows adherence to the 'one country, two systems' framework then we could reconsider this decision," Peters said when announcing the suspension on Tuesday.

Both the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand and China's Foreign Ministry quickly responded, accusing New Zealand of "gross interference in China's internal affairs".

Peters told Newshub Nation on Saturday that New Zealand wanted the Middle Kingdom to uphold its commitment to the 'one country, two systems' principle it set out when Hong Kong was transferred to China in 1997. 

"You can look at the language where it is said that they have hit back, but the reality is I was there as New Zealand's representative in 1997 in the handover of Hong Kong and the 'one country, two systems' guarantee that the Chinese government gave at that occasion," Peters said. 

"Everybody understands it, and, so, to say it's an interference from New Zealand or other countries is really a massive misuse of language. It's nothing of the sort. What we're saying is, 'We trusted you in your commitment of 1997. Please honour it, and if you do, we will review our position.'"

As China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, the relationship between the two nations is closely watched. But Peters said we have a "two-way system of reliability when it comes to trade". 

"[The Chinese Communist] Party is very much aware of the need to feed their population and to try and keep the escalators of progress going. They are as dependent upon our trade as we are upon them."

Questioned on whether New Zealand is more dependent on China, the world's second-largest economy, than it is on us, Peters said we may be too reliant.

"Maybe, our over-dependency, which somebody, some people have spoken [about], including myself, over the years, as being a danger, is too much dependency. But, that said, no one is free, as people might think, to say 'well, we are going to cause you economic punishment'. That would be a reaction totally against every commitment China has made to this country."

China did, however, take action against Australia earlier this year by banning meat imports after New Zealand's trans-Tasman neighbour called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. New Zealand also backed an inquiry, but didn't receive economic push back from China.

"I went public and said that I could not conceive any country in the world, including China, would not want a world-class inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. I said that I would believe the Chinese Government would come around to that view and they did."

He said it's about "how you phrase the language". 

"In the end the Chinese went to the World Health Assembly and joined a unanimous resolution to have that inquiry, including themselves."

Suspension of Hong Kong extradition treaty not interference from New Zealand - Winston Peters
Photo credit: Getty.

Hong Kong and COVID-19 haven't been the only issues regarding China that have required comment from New Zealand. The treatment of Muslim Uighurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang continues to be criticised while Taiwan wants to participate at the World Health Organization.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke to the New Zealand Chinese business community last week and mentioned the different stances between the nations

"Given our countries' particular histories, political and legal systems, and world views, it is natural that countries will take different perspectives on some issues," Ardern told attendees at the China Business Summit in Auckland.

"The New Zealand Government takes a stance where as representatives of the New Zealand people we think that the public has a direct and a resounding interest in the outcome," she added. 

"As you know, this has come to the fore recently around developments like Hong Kong's new security law; the situation of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang province; and Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization."

Peters is perfectly comfortable with Ardern's comments regarding the Uighurs. 

"Our job is to stand up for fundamental human rights worldwide. You can't often change things, but the least you can do is highlight them or ask questions."

Asked if the current climate was a chance for New Zealand to pivot away from China, Peters again said it's a case of not putting too many eggs in one basket. 

"No, [it's] not a matter of pivoting away. It's a matter of getting far greater spread of your trading arrangements so you are not dependent upon one. You have heard the old saying 'too many eggs in one basket'. One product, milk powder, one company, Fonterra, one market, China."

Ardern's comments last week received praise from the Taiwanese President. Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese President, tweeted her gratitude on Wednesday.

"We truly appreciate @jacindaardern speaking up for #Taiwan's participation in the @WHO. We cherish the common values we share with #NewZealanders, that is democracy, human rights, and rule of law, principles that are important to who we are as Taiwanese."