New Zealand Says Ally Australia Should ‘Show Respect’ to China

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New Zealand has suggested that its close ally and neighbor Australia should follow its lead in treating China with respect in order to mend strained diplomatic relations with Beijing.

In comments that have raised the eyebrows of some lawmakers in Canberra, New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor noted his government had maintained cordial ties with China. That’s in stark contrast to Australia, which has been buffeted by trade reprisals after calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I can’t speak for Australia and the way it runs its diplomatic relationships, but clearly if they were to follow us and show respect, I guess a little more diplomacy from time to time and be cautious with wording, then they too could hopefully be in a similar situation,” O’Connor told CNBC on Wednesday.

Australian government officials regard the remarks as unhelpful, particularly coming from a fellow member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, local media, including the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

O’Connor’s Australian counterpart, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan, said Canberra’s relationship with Beijing was “based on an assessment of our national interests.”

“We pursue engagement with China on the basis of mutual benefit, and the complementarity of our economies makes us natural trading partners, Tehan said in a statement Thursday. “We are always open to dialogue as the best way to resolve differences.”

Ties between China and Australia have been fraught since 2018 when Canberra barred Huawei Technologies Co. from building its 5G network on national security grounds, and worsened last year after the government called for an independent probe into the origins of the pandemic. Beijing accuses Canberra of being a puppet of the U.S. and of meddling in its internal affairs.

New Zealand, which has been markedly less vocal than Australia about Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region, earlier this week signed an upgraded free trade agreement with China.

In a statement Thursday, O’Connor said he’d spoken with his Australian counterpart following the CNBC interview. “New Zealand has an independent foreign policy, which allows us to maintain both our closest partnership with Australia and a mature relationship with China,” he said in the statement.

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