PM responds to China's warning it will 'poke the eyes' of NZ and allies

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Nov 2020, 9:20AM
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

PM responds to China's warning it will 'poke the eyes' of NZ and allies

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Nov 2020, 9:20AM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said China's statement it would "poke the eyes" of anyone who interferes in its sovereignty was not "language we would use".

Ardern's comments follow last week's diplomatic stoush last week between countries in the Five Eyes intelligence group - New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States - and the world's most populous country.

"We, the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State, reiterate our serious concern regarding China's imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong," the Five Eyes statement said.

"We call on China to stop undermining the rights of the people of Hong Kong to elect their representatives in keeping with the Joint Declaration and Basic Law. For the sake of Hong Kong's stability and prosperity, it is essential that China and the Hong Kong authorities respect the channels for the people of Hong Kong to express their legitimate concerns and opinions.

"As a leading member of the international community, we expect China to live up to its international commitments and its duty to the people of Hong Kong. We urge the Chinese central authorities to re-consider their actions against Hong Kong's elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members," the Five Eyes statement said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian hit back against the Five Eyes statement

"No matter how many eyes they have, five or 10 or whatever, should anyone dare to undermine China's sovereignty, security and development interests, be careful not to get poked in the eye," he said.

Ardern, speaking to Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning, said China's statement was not "language we would use".

New Zealand was always consistent in these things, Hong Kong was very relevant to New Zealand, do business there, and people here affected by things in Hong Kong, she said.

"My view is we have a relationship where New Zealand is consistent and predictable, where we raise these issues in a manner that is respectful and China will respond, where they see fit."

When will NZ get a Covid vaccine?

On the potential Covid-19 vaccines, Ardern said New Zealand was looking at a rolling application, with information updated on a rolling basis.

"Rather than just waiting for the finality of clinical trials... So we can move as quickly as we can, but we do need to satisfy our medical authorities so that it is safe to use."

The time countries are receiving vaccines is different, so it was not expected to be in New Zealand by Christmas.

Asked when a vaccine could be expected in New Zealand, given the FDA in the United States were looking to roll theirs out by December 11, the United Kingdom before Christmas, Ardern said she needed to check if she could talk publicly about the arrival date.

"As I say, delivery dates are different for every country but we are working as quickly as we can."

"I don't think we are going to see the case where the world is getting vaccinated and New Zealand is not."

Ardern disagreed New Zealand had been "bumped down the queue".

Hosking pressed Ardern on the timeline, stating Britain would be getting vaccines before Christmas.

"We paid the money and done the deal," he said.

Ardern said some of the information around deliveries "might be a bit speculative".

Not every country was getting everything at the same time, Ardern said.

"There is nothing I have seen suggesting any regulatory hold-up on our side, that is simply the delivery date. They are not able to produce enough for the world all at once."

When asked about the more thanr 1000 managed isolation and quarantine spaces that were reported to be available for travellers, Ardern said some of the live data was not capturing what was free.

"They keep a buffer, but I am told it is much smaller than that."

The team was going to try and make sure the data was more accurate, she said.

On Apec

Ardern said Apec discussed "legitimate issues" at the summit.

Asked by Hosking if the pledge for "free and predictable trade" was just "hot air", Ardern disagreed.

There had been "great examples" of this recently, including New Zealand and Singapore working together to keep trade and supply lines open through "tumultuous times".

There were also "trade tensions" between China and the United States, and issues at the WTO where there is no appointment to the appellant body so things are being blocked.

APEC 2020 formally ended on Saturday morning (NZ time), following a virtual meeting between the leaders of the participating countries.

The summit was "hosted" in Malaysia this year but because of Covid-19, the entire event was done online.

The Apec mantel now falls to New Zealand, which is hosting the summit next year.

"While this isn't an in-person meeting, it will be one of the most important international events New Zealand will host in decades," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

But, due to the logistics of organising such a significant event – which includes hosting world leaders from 21 different countries including the US, Australia, Japan and China – it takes years to prepare for the event.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) told the Herald that before the decision was made to hold a virtual summit, some $26.3m had been spent on preparations.

The overall budget of hosting the event is $46.13m.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister in the Key administration, Murray McCully, said a virtual Apec means the costs won't be as high as if the event had gone ahead in person.

"Apec is a very expensive meeting to host – especially the leaders and ministers component. But let's not forget also a raft of officials meetings that take place over a number of months."

He said it also means that one of the biggest economic opportunities for the host nation, its ability to showcase itself to the world, has also more or less been lost.

"New Zealand is missing out on a huge showcasing opportunity, but it's also no doubt going to be saving a significant budget," he told the Herald.

"I suppose it's sort of a double-edged sword."

Foreign Affairs expert Stephen Jacobi said New Zealand would also miss out on the additional spending from all the visitors who would have otherwise been in New Zealand for Apec.

World leaders are accompanied by an entourage of aides, officials and ministers during their Apec summit trips – not to mention the host of reporters and extra security the event also draws.

"On the other hand, we don't have to pay out a very large amount of money that would be required to host them in the right way," Jacobi said.

"The Government is avoiding a very large bill at a time of economic stringency for New Zealand."

But there are other non-economic costs to taking Apec fully online that need to be considered, Jacobi said.

"To move to virtual means we lose some of the human factor that goes into a big gathering of leaders and officials, ministers and business people."

A major loss will be the informal "pull-aside" meetings between world leaders which usually occur at Apec.

"It won't be quite the same," Jacobi said, adding that these meetings will have to be replicated "in some way, shape or form".

McCully agreed – "[Apec] is very much an occasion for meetings for counterparts holding informal meetings."

But Ardern is confident that, despite New Zealand hosting a virtual summit, Apec will still be a success.

"Delivering an innovative and well-run virtual Apec will demonstrate New Zealand's digital and creative capabilities, along with our commitment to continued and effective diplomacy," she said.

"In a Covid-19 world - It is more important now than ever."

On house prices

Hosking questioned Ardern on her comments house prices could not continue to keep rising the way they were, yet the Reserve Bank had made $28 billion available to banks, most of which would go to housing.

"Do you need to talk to the Reserve Bank governor?" Hosking asked.

Ardern said funding for lending was ultimately up to the mainstream banks. "And we are talking to them," she said.

"It is your choice whether you put it into the productive economy, that is what we are urging you to do."