Former US Ambassador Scott Brown says NZ's reputation as 'logical' means countries will follow if we get tough on China

Former US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown says other countries will follow if New Zealand retaliates to speculation China is aiding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, once evidence comes to light.

The growing geopolitical threat of economic coercion, or using trade as a weapon, has governments around the world preparing for the worst - including New Zealand.

The NZ Herald revealed on Thursday that Kiwi officials briefed the Australian Government around October on New Zealand's plan to protect against economic coercion and would like to work with Australia to ensure we are more resilient. The full documents were withheld by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and China was not mentioned by name.

Meanwhile the US has been rallying close allies to discuss the possibility of imposing new sanctions on China after Washington claimed Beijing was considering providing weapons to Russia. China has denied these claims.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins refused to tell AM on Tuesday whether New Zealand has been approached by the US over the matter but did not back down from a hard stance towards governments that support Russia's attack on Ukraine.

"We fully support the Ukrainian Government and we would take a very dim view of any other governments that were seen to be supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine," Hipkins said.

Chinese political commentator from Taihe Institute Einar Tangen told AM on Wednesday that if New Zealand applied baseless sanctions on China, China will likely retaliate by sanctioning New Zealand. He emphasised no evidence has been produced that China, which claims they are neutral in the war, has been providing lethal aid to Russia, accusing the US of a disinformation campaign.

On Friday, former US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown said no measures would be taken against China without evidence. 

"Listen, New Zealand's not going to do anything, and nor are [the US], until we know for sure that China is involved and providing weaponry or other assistance to Russia and its illegal war," Brown told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green on Friday.

Former US Ambassador Scott Brown.
Former US Ambassador Scott Brown. Photo credit: AM

A call to sanction China would present a dilemma for New Zealand since it is our largest trading partner.

Brown said New Zealand will ultimately make its own decision on what's best, adding "no one tells New Zealand what to do, ever".

He said New Zealand has respect from China since we were the first to legitimise it in the World Trade Organisation and the first to do a fair trade agreement.

"When New Zealand speaks to China, China listens because you have such a tremendous reputation, not only in the UN but around the world, as the logical, thoughtful, methodical country that takes everybody respectfully and seriously," Brown said.

He said if New Zealand sanctions China it will be up to the US and other countries to backfill any losses we have in trade.

But at the end of the day, Brown said he wants China to be involved as a leader, tell Russia to get out of Ukraine and help with the rebuild.

"When push comes to shove, do I want to see this economic war? No, absolutely not," Brown said.

"I challenge the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand to stop beating around the bush and get involved and tell Russia to get out of there."