Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta brushes off China's 'predictable' response to NZ-Australia statement on Hong Kong, Xinjiang

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta is brushing off China's angry response a joint statement of concerns by Australia and New Zealand, describing it as "predictable". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison released a joint statement on Monday after the annual Australia-New Zealand leaders' meeting which took place in Queenstown. 

The joint statement outlined both countries' concerns about alleged human rights abuses inflicted on Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region, as well as deteriorating democratic rights in Hong Kong and China's growing influence in the South China Sea. 

China's foreign affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin was asked about the statement in his regular press conference and responded by expressing "deep concern" about the "irresponsible remarks" by Ardern and Morrison. 

"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," he said.

"China opposes this."

Mahuta brushed off China's angry response on Tuesday as "predictable". 

"Let's be very clear, the joint statement by both Prime Ministers have continued to reiterate the issues that China is well aware of where we do not agree on Hong Kong and Xinjiang. These joint statements are very predictable and consistent with what we've already said."

China's foreign affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
China's foreign affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin. Photo credit: Getty

It's not the first time China has pressed New Zealand to mind its own business.

Parliament last month declared "severe human rights abuses" were occurring in Xinjiang. Despite the declaration being watered down with the word "genocide" removed, China reacted angrily, warning it would "harm mutual trust".

Ardern said that response was "not unexpected".

Morrison's visit came amid allegations New Zealand had gone soft on China at the expense of its relationship with Australia and the rest of the Five Eyes spy group, which also includes Canada, the US and Britain. 

Mahuta said earlier this year New Zealand was "uncomfortable" with expanding the purpose of the Five Eyes beyond intelligence sharing, which led to speculation of reluctance to criticise China - due to New Zealand's heavy reliance on it for trade. 

Chinese state mouthpiece the Global Times has praised New Zealand for taking a "responsible" stance on China. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

But Mahuta warned last week that New Zealand could find itself at the heart of a "storm" of anger from China, potentially becoming engulfed by its deepening trade war with Australia. 

Morrison, standing alongside Ardern at a press conference on Monday, delivered a stern message to "those who would seek to undermine" the trans-Tasman relationship that "they will not succeed".

"I have no doubt there would be those who would seek to undermine Australia and New Zealand's security by seeking to create points of difference, which are not there."

Mahuta wouldn't say who she thought Morrison was referring to. 

"Undoubtedly he'd be referring to the geopolitical sensitivities in our region."

She said the "main thing to emphasise" was the trans-Tasman relationship was strong, evident by the fact both Morrison and Australia Foreign Minister Marise Payne had visited in the space of a few months. 

"The trans-Tasman relationship is close. I think it's evidenced by the fact that our two Prime Ministers had a very robust set of conversations around the things that we agree on but also the things that challenge our relationship."

In a speech to the NZ-China Council in April, Mahuta said China and New Zealand "cannot and will not" always agree, reiterating concerns about Hong Kong and Xinjiang. 

She also publicly advised Kiwi exporters to diversify. China is currently New Zealand's largest trading partner, accounting for nearly 30 percent of exports worth more than $33 billion. 

"We're engaging with businesses and giving them a sense of what the geostrategic challenges are at this time," Mahuta said on Tuesday. "None of what we're saying is a surprise to business so obviously they're already reorienting."