20 Nov 2020

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta asks China to 'reflect'

6:59 pm on 20 November 2020

The Foreign Affairs Minister is not sure if New Zealand has offended China, but admits a statement made by a government official about removing the eyes of those who interfere with the country's business is "strongly worded".

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Five Eyes intelligence network, which includes New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada, made a joint statement which said Beijing was trying to silence political opposition in the Chinese territory.

The countries called for China to immediately reinstate recently fired members of Hong Kong's legislature and said new rule changes appeared to be a concerted campaign to silence critical voices.

In response, a China foreign ministry spokesperson said "it doesn't matter whether they have five eyes or 10; if they dare to damage China's sovereignty, security and development, they should be careful or their eyes will be plucked out".

Nanaia Mahuta said she could not assess if the statement was a threat, but "words can be interpreted in many ways".

She also described the response as "strongly worded".

Mahuta was not sure if the Five Eyes' statement had offended China but said she intended to speak to Chinese officials soon.

She also would not say what would happen if China did not revoke the new rules.

New Zealand's bottomline was that China would "actually reconsider that action, but more importantly the agreement with Hong Kong moving to China from the UK is that there would be a high level of autonomy and that would enable freedom of speech ... I'd like them to reflect on the decisions that prevent that approach," she said.

Mahuta stressed that New Zealand has a respectful relationship with China that is "maturing".

"The mature relationship enables us to understand what we are very clear about in terms of values and principles - New Zealand's been very consistent on that front," Mahuta said.

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