New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has indicated that he believes Chinese leader Xi Jinping is not a “dictator.”
Ahead of his first trip to China as prime minister, Hipkins was asked if he agreed with Biden’s comments referring to Xi as a dictator.
“No,” Hipkins said in reply to the question, adding that the “form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people.”
This is despite the fact that Chinese citizens are only able to choose between candidates that have been approved by the communist party.
Hipkins will arrive in China on June 25, leading a business delegation of 29 people in hopes of pulling New Zealand out of its current economic recession as soon as possible.
A meeting with Xi is included in his agenda.
Official data released on June 15 showed that New Zealand had slipped into a technical recession after the economy shrank in the December and March quarters.
“Since becoming Prime Minister, I’ve prioritised working in partnership with business to boost export growth in order to grow our economy,” Hipkins said in a statement about his trip.
“China represents nearly a quarter of all our exports, was our second largest source of tourists pre-COVID and is a significant source of international students, so it’s a critical part of our economic recovery.”
When first announcing his trip, Hipkins had denied that New Zealand was putting its eggs all in one basket in the light of warnings to diversify trade partners.
He acknowledged that China was a valuable trade partner to New Zealand while also highlighting that the Labour government had made efforts in advancing free trade agreements with the EU, UK, and other trade partnerships, like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
However, New Zealand has already significantly upgraded its free trade agreement with China in 2022, which included providing tariff-free access for 99 percent of New Zealand’s wood and paper trade.
Hipkins also insisted that New Zealand had always prided itself on maintaining a stable and consistent position in its balancing act with Beijing.
“That means that where we have human rights concerns, we will raise them; where we have concerns around trade or any other foreign-policy issue, we will raise those,” he told reporters.
“So our relationship with China has always been based on setting out clearly our position and, you know, being consistent in our position, and we’ll continue to do that.”
New Zealand Marching to Its Own Drum
Hipkins’ recent comments, which disagree with President Biden’s, have broken the perception that New Zealand was becoming more closely aligned with its Western allies.
On June 9, New Zealand, along with the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan, condemned economic coercive practices in a joint declaration aimed at Beijing.
“Trade-related economic coercion and non-market policies and practices threaten the livelihoods of our citizens, harm our workers and businesses, and could undermine global security and stability,” the group said.
Hipkins has also confirmed that he will attend the NATO leaders’ summit in Lithuania in July, where security concerns about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are expected to be high on the agenda.
The New Zealand parliament has also issued bans for the social media app TikTok on all government devices, citing security risks.
This shows the country is clearly aware of security risks when it comes to the CCP. Its ministers have also called out the CCP on its record of human rights abuses and failure to condemn Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on multiple occasions.
New Zealand Government Questioned Over Soft China Policy
The comments from Hipkins have reignited questions about the New Zealand government’s relationship with and stance on the CCP.
During COVID-19, New Zealand refused to criticise China over concerns that Chinese authorities interfered with the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 investigation in 2021.
Also in 2021, UK Conservative MP Bob Seely described the country as an “ethical mess” for being too soft on Beijing, while other critics accused New Zealand of being the “soft underbelly” of the Five Eyes alliance.
The same concerns also apply to New Zealand’s main opposition party, the National Party, with donation records revealing close CCP ties or, at the very least, significant CCP influence.
The leading CCP donor, Shanghai-based Lu Xinyan, is the acting head of the Australia and New Zealand offices of People’s Daily Overseas Edition. She is also the president and chairman of the board of Atlantic Media Group in New Zealand.
But the soft approach to Beijing comes not just from the Labour Party in New Zealand.
The National Party’s foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee also has a history of parroting CCP propaganda, including calling the situation in Xinjiang a “terrorism problem” when discussing a United Nations report that found credible evidence of human rights violations in the region.
Brownlee has also been extremely critical of the AUKUS security arrangement, claiming it will make New Zealand less safe.
This comes as New Zealand has witnessed its closest neighbour, Australia, be subjected to arbitrary trade sanctions by the CCP and had all its ministerial contact cut off during COVID-19 as a mechanism to pressure the Australian government to fall in line with the communist regime’s agenda.
The Chinese embassy in Australia also issued a list of 14 grievances that it said the country needed to address before diplomatic relations could be normalised.
These included stopping negative commentary by Australian media and MPs about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); ending calls for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19; haltering the government’s cooperation-building efforts with Indo-Pacific partners; removing the ban on Huawei from the nation’s 5G network in 2018, and Australia’s foreign interference laws.