Patron: Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

A period of uncomfortable disruption in growing New Zealand-China relations

By Dr Anita Perkins 

In recent months political commentary has reflected on an uncomfortable tension in the Sino-New Zealand relations. Some of this observation was centred on a decision to put on hold the Wellington opening of the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism. In November last year the Government Communications Security Bureau rejected a bid by Spark to use Huawei equipment in the implementation of its 5G network, due to undisclosed national security risks.

Diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China were established in 1972. Our mutual relationship reaches back to the 1840s. The New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2008, and, according to the MFAT website, China is currently New Zealand’s largest trading partner in goods and second largest overall including trade in services.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently announced that the date for the China – New Zealand Year of Tourism opening ceremony has been reset for 29 March. It will take place at Te Papa, with a delegation led by China’s Tourism and Culture Minister, Luo Shugang.

Below we set out media commentary from different perspectives on this period of disruption.

Trans Tasman Comment

The Trans Tasman in its February issues puts forward commentary on this issue in articles entitled ‘China- has the Huawei Decision Come back to Bite’ and ‘China Relations – Muddy Waters Don’t Help’. These comments convey the view that the decision not to use Huawei equipment in the 5G roll out may be viewed by Beijing as New Zealand taking sides with the US, rather than China. The authors note that there could be consequences for the New Zealand-China relationship.

Stuff Opinion: ‘Don’t let the spooks decide our trade policy with China’

In this early March opinion piece author Josie Pagani comments that New Zealand is succumbing to US pressure by making the decision not to use Huawei software. Her piece concludes that she’d rather “the Five Eyes stormed off” and “we keep our biggest trading partner onside”.

Dominion Post article: Huawei ruling defended

Accessible at:

This article from late February cites the head of the GCSB, Andrew Hampton, noting that no other countries played a role in its decision to reject the Huawei from the 5G network project. Hampton is quoted as saying “while we share intelligence with Five Eyes partners, there was no pressure, request or demands made by partners, either publicly or privately to ban any vendor.