China seems to be losing hold over its stooges. Slowly but surely, what were considered pro-China leaders across the world are coming back to their senses. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s turnaround, therefore, makes a lot more sense. From being a pusillanimous subject of China’s, Ardern now seems to have found her voice. Of course, it took a lot of nudging by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to bring Ardern to the path of truth – but at least it happened. On fundamental issues, Jacinda Ardern too is on Canberra’s side now.
And just like that, Scott Morrison – with one visit to New Zealand has ensured that he wins the Kiwi War, which was ignited by China. Jacinda Ardern welcomed Scott Morrison on Monday with the traditional welcome of “Maori hongi”, which involves touching noses and foreheads. The greeting seems to have knocked sense into Jacinda Ardern – and China is infuriated. With one visit of Scott Morrison, Beijing lost its biggest asset in the South Pacific.
While Australia has been going hard on China for over a year now, New Zealand had chosen to remain in the good books of China – which meant Wellington had practically no legroom to call out Chinese high handedness on any given issue – even if it wanted to. The visit by Morrison has changed that, as in a joint statement with Jacinda Ardern, Scott Morrison thrashed the living daylights out of China.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern strongly refuted suggestions of differences in the two countries’ approach towards China. At a joint press conference with Morrison in Queenstown, Ardern said, “You’ll see Australia and New Zealand have broadly been positioned in exactly the same place on these issues consistently.” Her Australian counterpart, meanwhile, said, “Australia and New Zealand are trading nations…But neither of us would ever trade our sovereignty or trade our values. We have stood side-by-side to defend and protect and promote these values.”
Scott Morrison also issued a stern warning to China, saying, “There will be those far from here who would seek to divide us, but they will not succeed.” But that is not where the two leaders stopped. In fact, Morrison has scored a magnificent victory in New Zealand and ensured Jacinda Ardern comes out looking just as strong against China as he does.
In a joint declaration, the two leaders expressed “deep concern over developments that limit the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong”. Ardern and Morrison also criticised China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, calling on Beijing to respect their human rights and grant the United Nations and other independent observers unfettered access to the region. Regarding the World Health Organisation’s enquiry into the Coronavirus outbreak, both leaders hoped the global health body’s investigation would continue.
The scathing attack on China by the two leaders came after trans-Tasman relations received a shot in the arm with Wellington coming out in Australia’s support at the World Trade Organisation – where Canberra is fighting it out against Beijing on the latter’s decision to stop barley imports from down under.
China is not happy with the growing bonhomie between Australia and New Zealand. Not only has Scott Morrison defeated Xi Jinping in securing the support of New Zealand, but has also dealt a severe blow to Beijing in the Pacific. So, speaking at a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the leaders of the two countries made “irresponsible remarks” on its internal affairs and made groundless accusations against China.
Wang was quoted as saying, “The leaders of Australia and New Zealand, with irresponsible remarks on China’s internal affairs relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the South China Sea issue, have made groundless accusations against China, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.” China also accused the two leaders of “seriously violating international law and basic norms of international relations, and grossly interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
China’s meltdown is nothing short of delicious. It is almost like New Zealand ditched China to side with one of Beijing’s biggest enemies. Here on, one can expect China to recalibrate its ties with Wellington as well.