23 Jul 2021

New Zealand's relationship with China 'maturing' - Foreign Minister

10:19 am on 23 July 2021

The New Zealand government says the relationship with its biggest trade partner China is maturing, however, issues and concerns will be called out.

Nanaia Mahuta

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says all countries must adhere to international rules of trade. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Earlier this week New Zealand joined the US, UK, the EU, Britain, Australia, Japan and Canada in blaming Beijing for sponsoring cybercriminal activity around the globe.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta told Morning Report the statement by GCSB Minister Andrew Little was not made lightly and was "based on strong evidence that he has seen".

"And obviously we're in the company of others of calling out this type of behaviour. What we want to see is a rules-based set of norms that will guide the way in which cyber activity is undertaken.

"Countries that we have free trade agreements with respect international rules and norms."

She said New Zealand was "very clear in terms of our expectations of what a maturing relationship looks like, and we have continued to reiterate that while China's significant relationship for us from a trade perspective, it is maturing".

She said all countries must adhere to the rules of trade.

Asked if China was a force for good in the world, she said: "That's a debatable issue. The point of the matter for New Zealand is that we want to ensure that we can articulate to China the measures where we can agree on but absolutely calling out the issues that we are most concerned with, and we are doing that."

The Chinese Embassy here said these accusations were "totally groundless and irresponsible".

Covid-19 origin

As Covid-19 continues to tighten its grip around the world, Mahuta said the origin of the coronavirus needed to be investigated further.

China has rejected the terms proposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to further investigate the origins of Covid-19.

The WHO sent a team of experts to Wuhan - the city where the virus was first detected in December 2019 - in January this year. The investigators then concluded that it was highly unlikely that coronavirus escaped from a laboratory, but the theory has persisted.

"We very much rely on the scientific evidence and there needed to be a further investigation. So we ... our position remains the same as it was," Mahuta said.

"The approach has to be evidence-based, scientifically based, in order for that to be completed fully. It was clear from the first report that there needed to be a further investigation... New Zealand's position hasn't changed on that front."

She would not confirm if New Zealand also believed there was a possible lab leak.

Fiji aid

Fijian health officials confirmed 15 more Covid-19 related deaths and 918 positive cases in the 24 hours to 8am yesterday.

"We offered financial assistance to ensure that they were able to provide some buffering of the economic impacts of Covid-19, PPE gear, a commitment of 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca. once approved by Medsafe," Mahuta said.

However, the Medsafe decision which was expected in July has now been delayed to August.

"But that hasn't stopped us working with Australia and other like-minded countries on behalf of Fiji to ensure that they get access to doses of AstraZeneca and Moderna," she said.

She said not all 500,000 doses might be used by Fiji, but they were still ring-fenced for the country at this stage.

As for the future of quarantine-free travel with Australia, she said the prime minister would have more details later today.

Mahuta said the government was being vigilant about the virus spreading in Australia.

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