Five Eyes nations haven't asked New Zealand to take stronger line against China - Grant Robertson

Despite overseas politicians and media commentators levelling stinging criticism at New Zealand's relationship with China, our Five Eyes partners haven't called on Aotearoa to take a stronger line against the Asian superpower, Grant Robertson says.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta last week remarked New Zealand is "uncomfortable" expanding the remit of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance to comment on non-security matters. It came after New Zealand was criticised for not joining up to some Five Eyes statements on human rights abuses in China.

Mahuta's comments set off a fresh round of condemnation and speculation overseas, with the likes of Brexit-backer Nigel Farage, a Conservative Party MP and a number of high-profile media commentators suggesting New Zealand was cosying up to Beijing. 

"Absolutely shocking, stunning statement that has come from the New Zealand Foreign Minister, backed up by the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern (sic), that effectively they are launching a new close alliance with China and they are effectively leaving the Five Eyes intelligence network," Farage said.

Despite all the noise, New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister says our Five Eyes partners haven't been in touch to ask Aotearoa to take a stronger line against China. 

"No, I don't believe they have. That will be because we understand that the Five Eyes is an important security arrangement, one that we have been a part of for a long time," he told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"Nobody in there misunderstands who New Zealand is and what we stand for. We are part of that security alliance, but, equally, we have got an independent foreign policy and we will raise issues as we think is fit for New Zealand.

"That, to me, is a bit of a no-brainer for New Zealand. We are a small country but we have got a proud record of standing up for what we believe in."

Since her comments last Monday, Mahuta has said the point she was making was that the Five Eyes may not be the appropriate forum to express concerns about human rights and New Zealand was interested in using other partnerships and groups to do so. New Zealand is, however, still committed to the Five Eyes, she said. 

That doesn't mean New Zealand has been silent on China's abuse of the Uighur people in Xinjiang or its interference in Hong Kong judiciary. 

Mahuta joined her Australian counterpart twice in March to call out Beijing, while New Zealand has been a party to statements read out at the United Nations. 

Last week, while visiting New Zealand for meetings with ministers, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said it was up to individual countries to choose how to express their thoughts. 

"Our respect for each other - Australia, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada - is enduring and continuing and one which we, particularly in Australia value enormously." 

When asked whether New Zealand should take a stronger line against China, Payne said she didn't give advice to other countries. 

Newshub revealed last Thursday that during the last conversations Ardern had with the UK's Boris Johnson and Australia's Scott Morrison, when Five Eyes came up, it was raised proactively by Ardern. They also didn't suggest New Zealand be expelled from the group, as some commentators predicted could soon happen.

In a speech to the NZ China Council prior to her comments on the Five Eyes, Mahuta likened the China-New Zealand relationship to that of a dragon and taniwha

"I see the Taniwha and the Dragon as symbols of the strength of our particular customs, traditions and values, that aren't always the same, but need to be maintained and respected," she said. "And on that virtue, we have together developed the mature relationship we have today."

Robertson said he felt that was a good metaphor to use as it showed "we respect each other but we have got roles that we play". 

He said New Zealand would continue to work with all countries but also not be afraid to call them out. 

"I think what we have got to do is make sure New Zealand upholds its independent foreign policy and the principles that go with that. We will work with China, we will work with the US. But, equally, where there are issues that concern us, we will call those out.

"It doesn't really matter to me whether it is China, the US or anyone else. We will make sure that we do that."