Pacific News Minute: New Zealand Worries About Relations with China

Feb 20, 2019

Credit Tākuta / Flickr

Canada’s relations with China have sunk to a new low following the arrest of a senior executive of the telecom giant Huawei. Two Canadians have been arrested in China and another sentenced to death. Now, New Zealand is worried about its relations with China, though the signals are not entirely clear.

A gala celebration of the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism was scheduled for today at Wellington’s Te Papa Museum. Except the Chinese officials couldn’t make it; the event has been cancelled.

Every New Zealand Prime Minister has traveled to Beijing in his or her first year in office. Except for the current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who’s encountered scheduling conflicts. 

One school of thought in New Zealand sees unmistakable signs that Beijing is unhappy, especially over New Zealand’s decision to bar Huawei from its 5G update on concerns about espionage. An article in China’s nationalist newspaper Global Times quoted a Beijing based worker named Li who identified himself as a patriot and said “New Zealand stabbed us in the back, but then asks for our money?”   

On the other hand, the New Zealand website Newsroom quoted an expert at the University of Auckland who said there was no way to know that this wasn’t just coincidence. Stephen Noakes said, “I’d love to hear from anyone who has any direct evidence on intentionality, but I’m not likely to, since very, very few have this kind of access.”

China has used tourism as a diplomatic cudgel in the past. Visitors to South Korea plummeted two years ago after Seoul’s decision to deploy an American anti-ballistic missile system, and China cut off tourism to the tiny country of Palau on the issue of Taiwan. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and, right now, its second largest source of tourists