New Zealand says 'uncomfortable' with expanding Five Eyes

New Zealand says 'uncomfortable' with expanding Five Eyes

In a significant shift, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says the country will resist future moves to join with partners Australia and U.S. to antagonise China using the Five Eyes intelligence framework.

Wellington's willingness to ally itself more closely with Beijing has also resulted in accusations that New Zealand is not fulfilling its obligations to protect smaller nations in the Pacific, which have been the target of Beijing's expansionist designs in the region.

Sometimes New Zealand would find it necessary to speak out publicly on issues, as it had over developments in Hong Kong, the treatment of Uighur in Xinjiang and over cyber incidents.

Meanwhile, Nanaia Mahuta's speech to the New Zealand - China Council continues to prompt reaction overseas.

In November, China issued a warning to "beware of their eyes being poked and blinded" after New Zealand - along with its Five Eyes partners - issued a statement reiterating "serious concern regarding China's imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong". New Zealand's reluctance to cooperate with other Five Eyes members raises serious questions about its continued membership of the alliance.

With China's escalating presence in the Asia-Pacific region, Mahuta said New Zealand needed to determine how it would go about its "mature" relationship with China.

In 2003, serious consideration was given in both London and Washington to ending New Zealand's Five Eyes membership after Helen Clark, the country's then Labour prime minister (and Ms Ardern's political mentor), ordered her country's intelligence services to scale down their cooperation with Five Eyes because of her opposition to the Iraq war. The calculation for Western intelligence chiefs, therefore, is whether it is worth persevering with New Zealand's membership when the Ardern administration has a very different set of policy objectives.

Yet attempts by the Five Eyes to present a united front against Beijing have been thwarted by the New Zealand government's preference for maintaining cordial ties with Beijing.

"New Zealand has been very clear not to invoke the Five Eyes as the first point of contact on messaging out on a range of issues that really exist outside of the remit of the Five Eyes", Mahuta asserted.

"We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes", she said at the time.

She said she had remained close to former British prime minister Tony Blair during that period and would be surprised if he had sanctioned talk of kicking New Zealand out of Five Eyes.

"She in a sense created some drama", Ayson said.

Appearing on Breakfast after Ayson, Mahuta said she wanted to clarify the context in which she made the comments.

Ms Ardern's ill-judged preference for fostering closer ties with Beijing will inevitably reignite the debate in Western intelligence circles as to whether New Zealand, which has always been regarded as the weakest link in the alliance, should retain its membership. "We don't favour that type of approach and have expressed that to Five Eyes partners".

A recent USA statement announcing sanctions against Chinese officials implicated in Xinjiang mistakenly included Australia in the list of countries imposing them.

However, Mahuta also sent a warning about overexposure, saying: "In thinking about long-term economic resilience, we also understand that there is value in diversity".

This was especially important given China is New Zealand's top trading partner, she added.

'There will be some areas on which it's useful to coordinate through the Five Eyes platform; but there will be other areas - human rights for example - where we want to look to building a broader coalition of countries to take positions'.

New Zealand has also issued many statements on its own, on issues related to China, some with Australia and some with larger multilateral groupings.

All District Health Boards will be replaced by one national health organisation, Health New Zealand. "On the other hand we have our major security arrangements".

"We [New Zealand] become the meat, the poor little thing in the middle".

Defence ministers from Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand agreed on this expanded remit last May to 'advance their shared values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights'.

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