New Zealand Ardern, Morrison defensive over China at trans-Tasman talks

Ardern, Morrison defensive over China at trans-Tasman talks

scott Morrison queenstown
Scott Morrison (with wife Jenny) and Jacinda Ardern (with fiance Clarke Gayford) at the wreath-laying ceremony in Arrowtown on Monday. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Scott Morrison has left New Zealand after his whistlestop trip, pledging to work closely with Jacinda Ardern on a COVID-19 recovery and securing a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

The two prime ministers met in Queenstown for the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders Forum.

Mr Morrison arrived on Sunday and departed 24 hours later.

Together, the pair took part in a traditional Maori greeting, addressed business leaders, visited Arrowtown War Memorial, and held formal talks.

The major talking points, both during their sitdown and in the following press conference, were China and COVID-19.

Many in Australia have accused New Zealand of being a softer touch to the superpower, given it has not been subject to trade sanctions in the way Australia has.

A frustrated Ms Ardern blamed the criticism on “perceptions” in Australian media, and that she dealt with “what we know to be happening on the ground”.

“I directly and strongly refute the assertion that we are doing anything other than maintaining a very principled position on human rights issues, on trade issues as they relate to China,” she said.

Mr Morrison uttered the phrase “free and open Indo-Pacific” several times on Monday, widely interpreted as a challenge to the one-party and increasingly belligerent China.

He said New Zealand and Australia “stood side by side” to defend those values, just as they did “on the beaches of Gallipoli”.

“Australia and New Zealand are trading nations. But we neither of us would ever trade our sovereignty or trade our values,” he said.

“This is a commitment that we share, and that we honour, and that will always be our approach.”

In keeping with diplomatic norms, the leaders issued a shared statement after their talks; a 51-point communique full of agreed positions.

There was one new announcement; a faster pathway to citizenship for Kiwis with jobs living in Australia.

Ms Ardern and Mr Morrison said they would use the talks to work towards the “next stage of writing the rulebook” on COVID-19, given the relative success of both countries in fighting the virus.

Ms Ardern said she wanted to “have a conversation around what does our region’s reconnection with the world look like”.

However, what that rulebook looks like is not yet clear.

The two leaders nominated no countries or timelines for further expansion of quarantine-free travel beyond the trans-Tasman bubble

The shared statement merely “notes” the opportunity to offer quarantine free travel to the Pacific “when it is safe to do so”