In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two leaders expressed “grave concern” about developments in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Xinjiang, and urged Beijing to respect the human rights of Uighurs and other minorities.
Morrison’s arrival in Queensland a day earlier came just hours after New Zealand announced it would join Australia in filing a complaint at the World Trade Organization against China for imposing high tariffs on Australian barley. The move is seen as a response by Wellington authorities to critics’ accusations that New Zealand is not standing firm enough in support of Canberra’s resistance to Beijing’s economic coercion.
Meeting with Morrison on the same stage with the media after the meeting, Ardern said New Zealand and Australia were on the same page on trade with China and human rights in China.
She said, “You will see that Australia and New Zealand’s overall position on these issues is completely consistent. So I reject those who say that we don’t have a strong enough position on these extremely important issues.”
A day earlier, Ardern told a meeting of business leaders that as two sovereign nations, New Zealand and Australia will not see and do the same thing on every issue, “but in an increasingly complex geostrategic environment, it’s important to treat each other as family. Australia, you (and we) are family.”
Australia-China political and diplomatic relations have deteriorated over the past two years, with Beijing imposing tariffs of up to $20 billion on imports from Australia on a variety of grounds, including product quality and dumping, devastating Australian producers of mining, agricultural and other products.
At the same time, Beijing has adopted a divisive strategy to strengthen its economic and trade ties with New Zealand, including upgrading their free trade agreement this year.
Late last year, amid deteriorating U.S.-China relations, Beijing adopted a similar strategy, abruptly compromising with the European Union on several economic and trade issues by signing a China-EU investment agreement with the EU. However, the European Parliament froze the approval process for the China-EU investment agreement after the EU and the U.S. acted in coordination last March to condemn Beijing for human rights violations in Xinjiang and received sanctions from Beijing in retaliation for them.
In a joint press conference on Monday, Australian Prime Minister John Morrison said attempts to divide and break Australia’s alliance with New Zealand would not succeed.
We are great partners, allies and family,” he said. There are people in faraway places who seek to keep us apart. They will not succeed.”
New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor tried to explain that New Zealand did not join Australia in filing a complaint against China at the World Trade Organization to join Australia in a political and diplomatic effort against China. He said the decision was made because the fair application of trade rules was important to New Zealand and its exporters, and “it’s not unusual for us to join similar complaints when we see international trade rules being challenged.”
In a media interview last week, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta expressed concern about the deterioration of trade and economic relations between Australia and China. She said, “If they [Australia] are at the center of the storm, it’s reasonable to have to say to ourselves that it’s probably only a matter of time before the storm approaches us.”