Jacinda Ardern accused of virtue-signalling, 'sucking up to China' in tirade from UK politician

Yet another British politician has claimed New Zealand is leaving the Five Eyes partnership, with a Conservative Party MP this time telling the UK Parliament Jacinda Ardern is "sucking up to China".

It runs counter to comments from Ardern this week that New Zealand is still committed to the intelligence-sharing alliance, as well as numerous statements Aotearoa has released in recent months expressing concern about Beijing's actions. 

Controversy erupted on Monday when New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said she was "uncomfortable" expanding the remit of the Five Eyes to comment on issues relating to non-security matters. 

While both Mahuta and Ardern have since reaffirmed New Zealand's commitment to the partnership and reiterated their point was around whether the Five Eyes was the appropriate group to comment on human rights issues, UK media and politicians have taken the remarks to suggest Aotearoa is abandoning the alliance.

The latest to raise concerns is Conservative Party MP Bob Seely, who expressed his thoughts to the UK House of Commons during a debate over whether China is committing genocide against the Uighur people in the provinice of Xinjiang. 

Talking about potential over-reliance on China for trade, Seely said "the problem is that if we go further down that route, we end up like New Zealand, in a hell of an ethical mess".

He said we have a "Prime Minister who virtue-signals while crudely sucking up to China and backing out of the Five Eyes agreement, which is an appallingly short-sighted thing to be doing."

Jacinda Ardern's office declined to comment when contacted by Newshub.

New Zealand hasn't backed out of the Five Eyes agreement and has released several statements - with the Five Eyes, with Australia and independently - on issues in China, such as interference in Hong Kong and treatment of the Uighurs. 

Newshub revealed on 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 and they didn't suggest a Five Eyes expulsion.

Ardern in March said Aotearoa would continue to express concerns with China over its treatment of the Uighur people. She also raised human rights issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping while in Beijing in 2019.

While New Zealand hasn't said a genocide is underway in Xinjiang - as the US, Canada, and now the UK, have - Mahuta has expressed her "grave concerns about the situation". 

"There is clear evidence of severe human rights abuses that include restrictions on freedom of religion, mass surveillance, large-scale extra-judicial detentions, as well as forced labour and forced birth control, including sterilisation," she said in a statement with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne in March.

In a speech on Monday, Mahuta said there are things on which New Zealand and China "do not, cannot, and will not, agree". 

"Sometimes we will therefore find it necessary to speak out publicly on issues, like we have on developments in Hong Kong, the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and cyber incidents," she said. 

"At times we will do this in association with others that share our views and sometimes we will act alone. In each case we make our decisions independently, informed by our values and our own assessment of New Zealand’s interests."  

Mahuta has also called for China to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission into the region. 

There is support for the New Zealand Parliament to declare a genocide. The ACT Party told Newshub in February that it would support such a motion, while National said it was something New Zealand should consider. 

The British Parliament's decision to declare a genocide in China is non-binding and doesn't mean the government - which believes such a determination should be left to the courts - has to do anything. But it is the latest move by a Five Eyes nation against China.

Earlier this year, the UK, US and Canada enacted a coordinated set of sanctions against Chinese officials linked to Xinjiang - something Canberra and Wellington welcomed. Beijing fired back, implementing sanctions of its own

Australia has also been increasingly vocal about issues in China, which last year slapped tariffs on some Australian exports.