Nanaia Mahuta wants to deal with 'facts', not 'hypotheticals' as United States warns China could give Russia weapons

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta wants to deal with "actuals" and "facts" rather than "hypotheticals" over the United States' warning that China could supply Russia with lethal support.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the weekend said intelligence showed China is considering providing Russia with weaponry. His warning came after he met with Chinese state councillor Wang Yi at a conference in Munich.

"The concern that we have now is, based on information we have, that they're considering providing lethal support," Blinken told CBS. 

"And we've made very clear to them that that could cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship."

Such a move would be a sharp escalation in China's support for Russia. So far, it has been limited to Chinese companies giving Russian groups non-lethal support. However, Blinken has noted that in China there is no distinction between private companies and the state. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told German media that if China allied itself with Russia, "there will be a world war". He said he believed China was aware of that. 

Mahuta was asked about the concerns at Parliament on Tuesday morning. She didn't directly answer questions about the warning or the implications of China giving Russia guns, but said New Zealand remained committed to assisting Ukraine. 

"We will continue to take proactive efforts to support Ukraine to defend itself," she said. "We remain concerned that Russia's aggression against Ukraine is illegal and unjust. In our mind, we continue to support Ukraine."

Asked how difficult it would be for New Zealand if China was to make such a decision given the two countries important trade ties, Mahuta said: "We will certainly deal with actuals".

New Zealand has sanctioned individuals and entities from other third-party countries that have helped Moscow, including Iranians for supplying drones to Russia and Belarusians for assisting Russian forces.

"There have been instances where third parties have been proven to provide support and we have taken action. But right now, we will deal with the facts in front of us and we will continue to support Ukraine to defend its interest and territorial integrity."

Mahuta said in those cases, the countries' involvement had been proven.

"I don't want to deal with hypotheticals, we will deal with the facts in front of us. Right now, our priority is to support Ukraine to defend itself."

Mahuta and Blinken in 2021.
Mahuta and Blinken in 2021. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The minister was also asked if New Zealand has made any representations to China about the issue. 

"We are doing that now. That is why we continue to take actions to support Ukraine to defend itself alongside other international partners who hold a similar view, that includes the UK, the US, Canada and other like-mindeds."

Asked to clarify if she was saying New Zealand was speaking to Beijing about the US warning, Mahuta didn't directly answer the question. 

"That is a decision, should they make it, that will lead to a whole other set of considerations…. We have certainly reflected our view about Russia's unprovoked and illegal actions against Ukraine."

National's foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said he couldn't comment on if the concerns were credible, but said, "that would be a move that wouldn't be particularly welcomed by most countries in the world". 

"China is also proposing a peace arrangement that they are going to announce in the next few days. Let's see what all that is about. I think in the meantime, I think it is important that all countries in the world recognise the aggression of Russia is a threat to the security of all of our national borders."

He didn't want to speculate further about how New Zealand would react if China supplied Russia with weaponry. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said overnight that it's the US, not China, "that has been pouring weapons into the battlefield". 

"The US is in no position to tell China what to do. We would never stand for finger-pointing, or even coercion and pressurising from the US on our relations with Russia."

Wang said China would soon be releasing a "position document on seeking political settlement of the Ukraine crisis". 

"The document will reaffirm President Xi Jinping’s important propositions, including respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, upholding the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, taking seriously the legitimate security concerns of all countries, and supporting all efforts conducive to a peaceful resolution of the crisis."