At summit, neighbors raise China human rights while sidestepping differences
NIKKEI ASIA – ERIC MEIJER, Contributing writer – May 31, 2021 18:47 JST
“The prime ministers affirmed their strong support for open rules-based trade that is based on market principles,” Australia’s Scott Morrison and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern said in a joint statement wrapping up their annual leaders’ dialogue.
The statement barely mentions China by name and its ongoing trade embargoes against Australia. But it does say that the leaders expressed “concern over harmful economic coercion” and that they “agreed to work with partners to tackle security and economic challenges.” Comments on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea are also likely to grab Beijing’s attention.
Some pundits had expected Australia to call out New Zealand’s more pragmatic approach to trade with China — the dominant market for both countries — and perhaps its stated reluctance to accompany its Five Eyes intelligence allies in joint statements on human rights.
But over the weekend, New Zealand headed off any such challenge by backing Australia’s action against China’s barley tariffs as a third party at the World Trade Organization. The tariffs were imposed last year in the wake of a number of disputes between Canberra and Beijing, especially the Morrison government’s call for a full investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
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