China not happy with Jacinda Ardern, Scott Morrison statement, says it's not trying to split NZ and Australia

China insists it doesn't want to see a "split between Australia and New Zealand" following a remark from the Australian Prime Minister on Monday noting there are some "far from here who would seek to divide us". 

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry is "deeply concerned" about the two countries' leaders expressing concern about the Asian nation's actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China sea, describing their comments as "irresponsible". 

Scott Morrison's whirlwind 24-hour trip to Queenstown concluded on Monday afternoon with a joint press conference with Jacinda Ardern. His visit came amid questions about the Australia-New Zealand relationship and the two countries' respective positions towards China.

While New Zealand has condemned China for its treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang and its interference in Hong Kong, it hasn't signed up to several Five Eyes statements, causing concern amongst commentators about Aotearoa's commitment to its traditional allies.

A 60 Minutes Australia trailer last week asked whether New Zealand was ditching its trans-Tasman partner for a "fast Chinese buck" at the same time Australia has been battered by trade tariffs imposed by Beijing for speaking up.

Attempting to quell concerns of a split between the two countries, Morrison on Monday said he doesn't believe New Zealand has sold its sovereignty to China. 

He also suggested there were some "far from here" who sought to divide Australia and New Zealand. While the Australian Prime Minister didn't specify who he was referring to, his remark came after a question about China's thoughts on New Zealand.

"I think as great partners, friends, allies and indeed family, there would be those far from here who would seek to divide us and they will not succeed, because as we've stood resolutely together on the values and principles that Australians and New Zealanders have stood for and indeed fought for, that will continue to be the case," Morrison said.

But China claims it doesn't want to see the trans-Tasman countries fall out.

A story published on Tuesday morning in the Global Times, a Chinese state-run media outlet, says that New Zealand's decision not to join some Five Eyes statements "has obviously disappointed some Australian elites". 

"A split between Australia and New Zealand is not something that China wishes to see," the article says.

However, it then went on to hammer home what it perceives as differences between the two countries in their attitudes towards China. 

It also says New Zealand has been "more practical" in its approach to China, expressing concern about activities there as that "is difficult to avoid as a member of the Five Eyes alliance". 

"Australia has been irrational in its handling of relations with China, including using 'microphone diplomacy' to provoke China for no reason. New Zealand is much more rational," the Global Times says.

"In many cases, Wellington has been able to communicate with Beijing through diplomatic channels. Judging from the history of China-New Zealand ties, Wellington has adhered to pragmatism in developing its relations with China. Even when the US and Australia's China policies have taken a sharp turn for worse, New Zealand did not blindly follow suit to suppress China."

The article is said to be written by Ning Tuanhui, described as an "assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies" (CIIS). The CIIS says it is the "think tank of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs". 

Scott Morrison, Jacinda Ardern and Wang Wenbin.
Scott Morrison, Jacinda Ardern and Wang Wenbin. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The New Zealand Government has repeatedly stressed it has an independent foreign policy and raises concerns when it sees fit in the forums it wishes to. Over the last year, New Zealand has made its position clear in its own statements, in joint statements with Australia and as part of Five Eyes. 

On Monday, Ardern and Morrison released a joint statement raising "serious concern" about developments in the South China Sea, "deep concern" about Beijing's interference in Hong Kong and "grave concerns" about the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded afterwards, unsurprisingly rejecting the accusations. 

"We have taken note of and are deeply concerned over the relevant statement," Wang said.

"The leaders of Australia and New Zealand, with irresponsible remarks on China's internal affairs relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the South China Sea issue, have made groundless accusations against China, grossly interfered in China's internal affairs and seriously violated the international law and basic norms governing international relations. China firmly opposes this."

At the press conference, Ardern also pushed back on suggestions of a divide between New Zealand and Australia. 

"At no point in our discussions today did I detect any difference in our relative positions on the importance of maintaining a very strong and principled perspective on issues around trade, on issues around human rights, and you'll see that Australia and New Zealand have broadly been positioned in exactly the same place on these issues, consistently.

"So I really push back on any suggestion that we are not taking a strong stance on these incredibly important issues. When it comes to the matter of Five Eyes, we remain a committed member - that is not in question or in doubt."

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