New Zealand officials have of late looked at their much larger Aussie neighbor and expressed concern that the island could soon find itself in the middle of a similar trade war with China and generally a target of Beijing's wrath. New Zealand is after all part of the 70-year old "Five Eyes" intelligence grouping of English-speaking nations that includes the US, UK, Australia and Canada - all of which have been increasingly vocal against China's human rights abuses and coercive trade and spy measures abroad. Wellington is under growing pressure from its bigger, influential allies to get more vocal.
In April New Zealand's foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, sought to distance her country from the "pressure" and controversy as they spotlighted human rights abuses connected with the Uyghur Muslim population as well as Hong Kong, and other anti-democracy malfeasance, calling such criticisms "uncomfortable". But despite the conciliatory attempts to stay somewhat "neutral" on the China criticism and growing antagonism, Mahuta is now warning the tiny nation could soon find itself in the center of a "storm" of anger from China in "only a matter of time".
She's now openly pushing for greater diversity of exports before that day comes after witnessing the Australia example and the devastation wrought by a trade war with its single biggest export destination - vocalizing something which itself is sure to gain Beijing's scrutiny.
"We cannot ignore, obviously, what’s happening in Australia with their relationship with China. And if they are close to an eye of the storm or in the eye of the storm, we’ve got to legitimately ask ourselves – it may only be a matter of time before the storm gets closer to us," she said in a Guardian interview this week.
"The signal I’m sending to exporters is that they need to think about diversification in this context – Covid-19, broadening relationships across our region, and the buffering aspects of if something significant happened with China," she said, and posed further, "Would they be able to withstand the impact?”
An estimated 30% of all New Zealand's exports now goes to China (accounting for over $33 billion), a clearly massive enough chunk for Beijing to unleash real damage if it wanted to, after a past decade of steady reliance on China as NZ's "big buyer", stemming back to the New Zealand–China Free Trade Agreement signed in 2008.
For now it appears Beijing is desirous of keeping things in accord with FM Mahuta's April assessment of wanting to stay away from hurling "uncomfortable" accusations, or staying far away from "distractions".
In reaction to Mahuta's Monday published interview statements, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, expressed hope that the two countries can work in "the same direction, make the pie of cooperation bigger, rise above external distractions." The Chinese statements were made Wednesday.
The Chinese statement laid out that progress in relations can only be achieved "on the premise that the two sides have long been committed to mutual respect, mutual trust and win-win results" - ultimately toward a "comprehensive strategic partnership".
Of course Beijing has alternately lately voiced that it's precisely "mutual respect and trust" that is fundamentally lacking in the current state of deteriorated relations with Washington.