Russia-Ukraine war: New Zealand directly encourages China to 'use its access and influence' in responding to invasion

New Zealand has directly encouraged China to "use its access and influence as part of a strong and international response" towards Russia's invasion into Ukraine.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Chris Seed met with his Chinese counterpart on Wednesday ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. 

While the virtual conversation canvassed issues like trade, climate change and concerns regarding Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said on Friday that the conflict in Ukraine was also raised. 

"It was also a timely opportunity to discuss pressing international security challenges, including Russian aggression against Ukraine," a MFAT statement said. 

"Chris Seed reiterated New Zealand's condemnation of Russia's unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine and encouraged China to use its access and influence as part of a strong and unified international response."

China has been extremely cautious in its response to Russia's invasion, repeatedly saying that it respects "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries" and supports a peaceful resolution, but without explicitly condemning Russia. China and Russia only just last month declared a new stage in their "friendship".

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson last Saturday told Newshub Nation she believed the New Zealand Government should be "proactive in building global community consensus for peacebuilding", including by speaking with China. 

"It actually means leaning into our foreign partnerships and relationship that we have, including with China, who are a massive influence on Russia, that actually says, well, we've got a good relationship," Davidson said. 

The co-leader received backlash on social media for that suggestion, including from former Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, who said it demonstrated "appalling naivety and ignorance of real politic".

New Zealand has a healthy relationship with China, arguably one of the best of any Western nation. Aotearoa was the first developed country to enter into a free trade agreement (FTA) with China and in April the NZ-China FTA Upgrade will come into effect. China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, with goods and services exports hitting $20.1 billion in the year ending June 2021.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said it was in the world's interest that no country took a position that "might further entrench difficult regional issues", but made "no assumption" about the positioning of China.

"Our officials have remained engaged with China, expressing our views and concerns around Russian activity and this invasion and continuing to encourage all Security Council members to take a very strong position," she said.

Asked if she thought other countries may expect China to use its relationship with Russia to mediate, Ardern said: "Why not encourage?"

"Why not encourage China to play the role that the world is looking for right now? Let's not make an assumption on particular positioning. We don't want to further entrench diplomatic hostility when, actually, what we all need are diplomatic solutions."

Chris Seed spoke with his Chinese counterpart this week.
Chris Seed spoke with his Chinese counterpart this week. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Other countries have also suggested China could play a critical role in influencing Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops. That includes Ukraine itself.

Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday, about five days after China's President Xi Jinping spoke to Putin as the war was beginning.

Beijing's statement on Wang's conversation with Kuleba says the Ukrainian "looked forward to China's mediation efforts for the ceasefire", while the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Kuleba took the opportunity to ask Wang to "use the level of relations between Beijing and Moscow to force Russia to stop its armed aggression".

China, however, is yet to take any real diplomatic action to denounce Russia. 

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday overwhelming voted to condemn Russia's actions, with only five nations - Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria - voting against. A number of countries, including China, abstained. 

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said full consultation wasn't allowed on the UN resolution and it didn't "take full consideration [of] the history and complexity of the current crisis".

"It did not highlight the importance of the principle of indivisible security, or the urgency of promoting political settlement and stepping up diplomatic efforts. These are not in line with China's consistent position," spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Friday.

Just a month ago, ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China and Russia declared they had a "no limits" friendship with "no forbidden areas of cooperation". A report on Wednesday said Chinese officials told Russia not to invade Ukraine until after the Olympics, though China has denied that.

While New Zealand began having some official contact with China in 1912, formal relations weren't established until December 1972.

MFAT said on Friday that Seed's conversation with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Xie Feng allowed the pair to "review the breadth of the bilateral relationship".

"The bilateral relationship is multifaceted, encompassing significant economic, people-to-people, and cultural connections that have remained strong despite the challenges of COVID-19," Seed said.

They discussed the upcoming NZ-China FTA Upgrade, while New Zealand "registered concerns" about Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and "regarding trade measures as raised in the WTO and elsewhere". Trade Minister Damien O'Connor last May announced New Zealand would be party to a trade dispute between China and Australia at the World Trade Organisation.

"The Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Vice Minister exchanged views on regional and international issues, including the Pacific, Antarctica and the multilateral system," MFAT said.