23 Nov 2020

Jacinda Ardern not surprised by China's threat to 'pluck out eyes' of critics

8:40 am on 23 November 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't engage in interpreting China's threat to "pluck out the eyes" of nations that accused it of eroding Hong Kong's democracy and freedom of speech.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Five Eyes intelligence alliance last week issued a joint statement criticising China's imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong.

That prompted a response from China that said: "They should be careful or their eyes will be plucked out.

"The Chinese never make trouble and are never afraid of anything," saying it did not "matter if they had five or 10 eyes".

Ardern told Morning Report on Monday: "It's not for me to interpret the statements of other nations. What I do know though is on both sides we have been really consistent on what we have been saying about Hong Kong.

"I don't think that for China, those statements will be a surprise.

"We have been really ... repetitive in some of what we are saying around Hong Kong and that's been because we believe that we have an interest there in the number of New Zealanders that do business in Hong Kong, the the impact on those here in New Zealand that are affected by it.

"For us the important thing is that we are consistent and nothing we say comes as a surprise for China, where our relationship is important."

Ardern said she took the comments from China "as read".

"Obviously it is a strong response. But equally I'm not surprised by a strong response, just as they won't be surprised by what we have said because we have been saying it for some time."

The Five Eyes statement was just that - a statement, not an agreement on foreign policy, Ardern said.

"It's not unusual. It was signed off by foreign ministers."

She described Five Eyes as a "group of partners who we work with closely" where "on a common issue, we may issue a common statement".

"This just happens to be an issue where this is the view of New Zealand. We have said that independently and that we are saying collectively as well...

"We do have an independent foreign policy. That is really important to us."

She refuted suggestions that New Zealand was losing independent foreign policy.

"I would challenge that. There have been times ... when we haven't been party to some of the statements made (by Five Eyes) and then we are questioned for it.

"Then at that time I again reiterate that we have an independent foreign policy."

The New Zealand - China relationship was a "very mature" one, in Ardern's view.

"We are able to express concerns where we have them but at the same time we do engage with China constructively...

"I'm not surprised to hear a response from China. We have made our views know, they have made their views known. Of course, I'm not going to stand in the way of any nation expressing a view when we have just just taken the liberty of expressing our own."

She acknowledged the trade relationship with China was important, saying "it is about our ability to navigate both".

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