New Zealand not too scared to call out China, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says

"We should stand up and actually call things out when they contravene our values."
"We should stand up and actually call things out when they contravene our values." Photo credit: Getty Images.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon denies New Zealand is too scared to call out China after a statement from our Embassy in Manilla about "dangerous actions towards the Philippines" in the South China Sea didn't lay blame on China like some of our international partners did.  

Both Australia and the United States on Sunday singled out China in statements about incidents near the Second Thomas Shoal, which lie in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.  

The Philippines on Sunday said that Chinese vessels had used water cannons, "rammed" and "harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous" manoeuvres towards civilian boats there. China's Coast Guard has reportedly accused the Philippines of "deliberately colliding" with its vessels.  

It's the latest escalation in tensions between the two countries which are in dispute over the waters. While China says it has sovereignty over the waters, the Philippines won a dispute in the Hague in 2016 which found China has no legal basis for such a claim.   

In a statement on X (formerly Twitter), New Zealand's Embassy in Manilla said the country was "deeply concerned at multiple incidents of dangerous actions towards the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal".  

"This includes obstructing civilian boats and the use of water cannons against Philippine vessels, causing significant damage.  

"These actions pose real risks to safety and lives, and risk undermining regional stability. New Zealand again firmly calls for all parties to resolve disputes peacefully in full accordance with UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]." 

That statement raised some eyebrows online for the fact that it didn't make mention of China.   

"Statements are better than silence, but if you don't name the bully and condemn only 'incidents', then the bully has something on you," said Euan Graham, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  

"No specific naming of China," said Philip Turner, a former New Zealand diplomat.   

Both the United States' and Australia's Ambassadors in the Philippines specifically called out China.   

Luxon on Monday afternoon denied the Government was too scared to call out China, our largest trading partner.   

"We should stand up and actually call things out when they contravene our values and hope you'll see a lot more of that as we go forward," he said.   

He said he wasn't familiar with this specific situation, but New Zealand would stand up for values we think are important.  

"We are very happy to call that out with any of our partners and people that we do business with around the world."  

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told Newshub New Zealand was concerned at any actions in the South China Sea that "risk escalating tensions, including those which pose risks to safety or life at sea, or that risk undermining regional stability".   

"New Zealand has previously raised concerns about Chinese actions in the South China Sea, including with China. We continue to consistently call on all claimants to refrain from actions which risk escalating tensions or which undermine the trust and confidence that is needed to achieve an enduring solution, and to peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS.  

"Extensive information surrounding the actions taken during these incidents already exists in the public domain."  

The strong trade relationship that New Zealand has with China - exports there were worth $20 billion in the year to December 2022 - has previously led to concerns that Aotearoa hasn't been as vocal as others in condemning Beijing for abuses.  

Luxon said on Monday that while New Zealand had a long-standing relationship with China - last year marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations - and "strong commercial ties", "we also consistently, coherently raise our concerns that when they have actions that are different from our value set".