Australia should 'urgently reset' relationship with New Zealand to ease China's leverage - Aussie academic

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta made headlines last week.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta made headlines last week. Photo credit: Getty / File

An Australian academic says his country desperately needs to empower New Zealand to break free from China's economic grip amid a Five Eyes diplomatic disagreement.

Dr William A Stoltz, an Australian national security professional, is calling for an "urgent reset" of the relationship between the ANZAC nations.

Last week, Aotearoa's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta made headlines for stating New Zealand was "uncomfortable" with invoking the Five Eyes alliance to speak up on issues beyond intelligence matters.

That came following criticism of Mahuta for not being party to Five Eyes statements on Beijing's interference in Hong Kong.

Mahuta's comments indicate New Zealand is taking a more cautious approach to its relationship with China, a key trade partner; but they reportedly "blindsided" Australian officials.

Dr Stoltz says Mahuta made a "striking assertion", but believes Aotearoa's economic dependence on China has generated a "blindness" to the country's wrongdoing.

"The sheer scale of New Zealand's economic dependence on China has also generated a wilful blindness to China's increasingly bellicose behaviour," he writes in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"It is indicative of China's leverage over New Zealand that Mahuta's decision also follows the recent upgrading of New Zealand's China Free Trade Agreement."

Dr Stolz says it's a "lucrative deal" given New Zealand's vulnerable economic position following the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Ultimately, the splintering of New Zealand from Five Eyes on the question of how to address China is a sad, if predictable, consequence of Beijing's enduring strategy to coerce and undermine the vital partnerships between liberal and democratic states," he says.

"Yet for Australia, it is also a warning that the bilateral relationship requires an urgent reset if New Zealand, and other Pacific states, are to be pulled back from China's orbit."

Dr Stoltz says the Australian-New Zealand relationship has grown "distant" in recent years as leaders have sparred over the deportation of NZ citizens among other issues.

"Australia urgently needs to move to reset the relationship with a concerted diplomatic campaign to help New Zealand diversify its markets away from China and strengthen its resilience to foreign interference."