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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga): I want to ask the Minister some questions on China – New Zealand relations and in particular the situation in Hong Kong to start with. Can I start by just making some introductory preface remarks, really. I think, at this incredibly important time in international affairs—I know people can always say that, but it seems to me that this year, with COVID, with what is happening internationally between the US and China, we’re at a level of seriousness, uncertainty, and danger, frankly, and we haven’t been for some time. People talk about a second Cold War—may or may not be overdoing it, but it does give you a sense of where things are at.

So I want to start, as I say, with Hong Kong, with the national security law. Oh! Good golly—it’s bad to worse. Well, I want some real answers—I want some real answers. Let me get on—

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Ruth Dyson): Well, try some real questions, Mr Bridges.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I’m going to—I’m going to.

I want to say, firstly, thank you for what has happened with the suspension of the extradition treaty. But why did it take so long, when the Five Eyes partners, literally almost every one of them, many, many weeks, actually, ago, were in this position and were condemning what happened in Hong Kong? We were at the level of concern and so is Five Eyes. Now, some have said “Four Eyes and a Blink”. Is that where we’re at? Why don’t I wrap up all of these questions, so the Minister can have a good go at it? That is a question about why it took so long.

Is the Government considering a safe haven visa for Hong Kong? If not, why not? Does he accept that it is the right thing to do as a democracy who believes in the rule of law and human rights? Does he also accept that it is very good indeed in terms of bringing valuable skills from Hong Kong to New Zealand, as we need? I think all parties in this Parliament try and have more of an innovation nation, that does well in tech and the like. Or is it the case that the Government’s position on immigration, and certainly parties within the Government and their position on immigration, is getting in the way of doing the right thing and the smart thing when it comes to a safe haven visa?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I thank the member, Hon Simon Bridges, for his questions, although I do wonder exactly how they relate to the Estimates of Vote Foreign Affairs, but I’m happy to answer them to the extent that I can.

In question of the timing—in fact, overall in response to the first two questions—I think it’s very important that New Zealand maintains its independent foreign policy. Yes, we work closely with our Five Eyes partners on a number of areas, but we are not necessarily all going to put the same statement out about any given issue. New Zealand will take its position on the basis of our interests and the interests of the people of New Zealand, and so we took the time that was required to develop a position that we were comfortable with across Government, and we articulated that.

The member can take a look; they had a number of other foreign policy areas both in this Government and in the last Government, and indeed in Governments before that, where New Zealand has taken its time to articulate a position. We were very clear in the position that was articulated yesterday: that the extradition treaty is suspended and that New Zealand is not prepared to go along with that given the current regime in Hong Kong and the laws that they have passed. That is a strong position. It is a clear position. It has, as the member will have noticed, garnered the same reaction as the other four Five Eyes partners’ announcements. So it doesn’t distinguish us from them in that way.

In terms of the member’s questions around safe-haven visas, I am not aware of any plan to do that from the New Zealand Government. We do have, as the member is well aware, a number of visa categories and skills categories that are available for people to apply for. We welcome people with the kinds of skills that New Zealand needs to make sure that our economy is as productive and as sustainable as it can be, and that’s my suggestion there: that, where there is a possibility for people to do that and they want to come here, those visa categories are available for them.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga): Following on—thank you, Madam Chair—in relation to China and New Zealand, I want to understand the Government’s position when it comes to managing the relationship with China, which is so critical. We all know in this House that it is our number one trading partner by far—it’s certainly number one. Actually, now it’s a situation where we, in fact, have a trade imbalance, if you want to put it that way. We sell more in goods and services to China than the other way. Yet the world is becoming increasingly concerned with a more assertive China, whether it’s issues of Hong Kong, which we’ve addressed, or others besides. The latest The Economist magazine has a heading today, or this week, “Trade without trust”, and is that the Government’s position now going forward? What are we doing about Huawei, when Britain has just, as I read the headlines, banned Huawei coming in and doing the work that it was once welcomed into? In the South China Sea: is it our position that the activity of China there is sometime unlawful, as is the United States’ position?

Michael Wood: Point of order.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Ruth Dyson): I think I can anticipate your point of order, and I was just—

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I can do it one by one, or I can do it like this, and I thought this was better.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Ruth Dyson): It’s better if you don’t interrupt me. Could you please sit down. I gave the member a lot of leeway in his first contribution because he’s a very senior member. He hasn’t participated in this new process of debate in recent times. But that isn’t the primary point of my interruption; it is that the member is required to speak to the appropriations rather than very interesting and very important foreign affairs topics. That’s for a different debate. So if the member could move to the appropriations. It doesn’t matter if the member wants to bundle two or three questions. That’s entirely appropriate. They should be questions the Minister’s expected to respond, but they should be questions about the appropriations, not about foreign affairs policy.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I raise a point of order, Madam Chairperson. Appropriations are in relation to the future projections and activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the foreign affairs Minister. I’d make the point that what I’m asking is precisely within the ambit of what is allowable within this committee.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Ruth Dyson): That’s not a point of order; that’s arguing with the Chair.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: So in terms of those appropriations—they’re very fair questions—I’m asking the Minister in the chair, Grant Robertson, on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: what’s his position on these things in this appropriations debate and committee stage? Where does he see the relationship, and how will he be instructing MFAT to act?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): In terms of the appropriations, obviously the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is funded and resourced to manage all of our bilateral relationships, and obviously the bilateral relationship with China is a critically important one The point that I would make to the member is that there appears to be somewhat of a contradiction in his two lines of questioning—the first asking us to seemingly go harder and quicker around the issue of Hong Kong, but then expressing a degree of concern about the impact of the relationship on China. But with that regard, the Government’s position, I believe, is probably fairly similar to the member’s party in the previous Government. We recognise the importance of the relationship with China. What we want is a relationship of maturity and mutual respect, and that means that there will be issues from time to time where we disagree. That is the same with every country that we have. It includes the kind of relationship we have with Australia. We don’t always agree, but we will take the opportunity, from time to time, to air that, but for the most part, those relationships remain strong. The trading relationships remain particularly strong.

With regard to the position of Huawei, I just reiterate to the member that New Zealand has taken the position, again, across Governments that we have a legislative authority, the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act, or TICSA, when it comes to how we manage what happens when it comes to our communications systems. With that, it is in fact blind to any particular country. It is merely a system where we take into account New Zealand’s national security needs, alongside our communications needs. There have been, and it’s in the public arena, various conversations with partners such as Spark, who were working with Huawei. They decided not to continue with that. That is entirely their right, and a commercial decision, but that is bound by legislation and is not about any particular country.