Aussie journalist Jonathan Swan, who went viral for grilling former US President Donald Trump, has taken on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over China and the Five Eyes spy alliance.
Ardern was invited to speak to the US Chamber of Commerce via Zoom on Thursday, where she canvassed the COVID-19 response, climate change issues, and New Zealand's relationship with the United States and the Pacific.
Swan, whose heated interview with Trump during the lead-up to the US election went viral last year, was given the opportunity to question Ardern about recent controversy surrounding the China-New Zealand relationship.
He brought up Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who said last week New Zealand was "uncomfortable" with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes - that's New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK and US - beyond intelligence sharing.
It sparked speculation across the bloc that New Zealand was distancing itself from traditional allies to appease its largest trading partner China, who the Five Eyes have been speaking out against in joint statements over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Swan also referenced Trade Minister Damien O'Connor, who earlier this year came under fire from politicians across the Tasman ditch, after he said Australia should exercise "more diplomacy" when dealing with China.
"Do these notable differences exist because New Zealand disagrees with some of the criticism of China from allies like Australia and the United States?" Swan asked Ardern.
"Or is it because New Zealand is concerned that China will retaliate to any criticism with economic penalties as they have in Australia?"
Ardern argued New Zealand has been "utterly consistent" on human rights issues. On the alleged atrocities against Uighurs in Xinjiang, Ardern reminded Swan that she raised it with Chinese President Xi Jinping during her 2019 visit to Beijing.
"Something that we pride ourselves on is the fact that when we see issues that concern us, regardless - and this is very important - regardless of economic ties, we will raise them, and continue to do so," Ardern said.
"So I guess it really rejects the premise of Jonathan's question, because for us it's a very foundational principle, ensuring that we speak to our values at all times.
"With regard to the coalition of members of the international community who do the same, our view is that we should continue to encourage a range of different platforms on issues - be it Myanmar, be it China - to continue to raise those concerns."
Ardern said New Zealand will speak out against human rights abuses from various platforms, be it through the Five Eyes, the United Nations, or with close allies like Australia, with whom we recently released a joint statement on Xinjiang.
"What is most important is the principle that we continue, when we see issues that directly counter to our values as nations - particularly around human rights and democracy - is that we share those views very openly in a way that guards those principles we hold dear."
Ardern told reporters after the US Chamber of Commerce meeting that New Zealand still holds the Five Eyes alliance in high regard.
"Five Eyes continues, and will always be very, very strategically important to New Zealand. But also going forward, we'll continue to make sure we work with our partners on issues around human rights, democracy, and as we have always done, make sure that we raise our concerns in those arenas on an ongoing basis, because that's in keeping with New Zealand's independent foreign policy."
Ardern was adamant New Zealand hasn't chosen China over the Five Eyes.
"New Zealand has an independent foreign policy. We are proud of our independent foreign policy. We have never chosen partners, per se. We have always chosen to stand on our values, which are strongly embedded in the importance of democracy and human rights."