WELLINGTON • Differences between New Zealand and its top trading partner China are becoming harder to reconcile as Beijing's role in the world grows and changes, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday.
The comments come as New Zealand faces pressure from Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticise Beijing.
Ms Ardern told the China Business Summit in Auckland that there are things on which China and New Zealand "do not, cannot, and will not agree", but added that these differences need not define their relationship.
"It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China's role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems - and the interests and values that shape those systems - are becoming harder to reconcile," she said.
In comments that sparked some reaction among New Zealand's Western allies, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta last month said she was uncomfortable expanding the role of Five Eyes, which includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.
"This speech appears to be crafted to deflect surprisingly sharp and severe criticism from commentators after Mahuta's remarks," said Mr Geoffrey Miller, international analyst at the website Democracy Project.
China, which takes almost one-third of New Zealand's exports, has accused the Five Eyes of ganging up by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.
New Zealand's Parliament is set to look today at a motion from a smaller party to declare the situation in Xinjiang a genocide.
China's Ambassador to New Zealand, Ms Wu Xi, who also spoke at the event, warned that Hong Kong and Xinjiang-related issues were China's internal affairs.
"We hope the New Zealand side could hold an objective and a just position, abide by international law and not interfere in China's internal affairs so as to maintain the sound development of our bilateral relations," she said.
Ms Ardern, when asked about possible trade punishment from China, said: "It would be a concern to anyone in New Zealand if the consideration was 'Do we speak on this or are we too worried of economic impacts?'"