New Zealand Has 'Grave' Concerns About Chinese Human Rights Policies, Jacinda Ardern Says

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden is taking a firm stance on China's human rights record.

In a Monday speech to the China Business Summit in Auckland, Ardern said New Zealand has raised "grave" concerns with China on human rights issues, including the situation of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region and residents in Hong Kong.

"It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China's role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems—and the interests and values that shape those systems—are becoming harder to reconcile," Ardern told the audience.

Here words come as New Zealand has struggled to find the right tone on China in recent weeks, after not joining Western allies that have spoken out against China on human rights issues.

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In London on April 22, demonstrators from the Uyghur community hold placards as they call on Parliament to vote to recognize persecution of China's Uyghur people as genocide and a crime against humanity. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta caused a diplomatic stir last month when she discussed her reluctance to expand the role of the Five Eyes to include joint positions on human rights. The alliance among New Zealand, the U.S., the U.K, Australia and Canada has its origins in World War II cooperation.

Stephen Noakes, the director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Auckland, said he wouldn't have expected to hear such language from New Zealand even a couple of years ago. He said some of it sounded like a wink to the Five Eyes to let them know that although New Zealand might have economic dependencies on China, it wasn't being soft.

Noakes said that because China's relationships with both Australia and Canada have deteriorated so rapidly in the last few years, it has made New Zealand's rosier relationship stick out like a sore thumb.

Still, Noakes said, he didn't expect the change in New Zealand's rhetoric to have any negative impact on its trade with China. And he said New Zealand's relatively moderate stance could make it a useful go-between in the future between China and other Five Eyes members.

New Zealand has stopped short of calling the Uyghur abuses genocide, language that the U.S. and some other countries have used.

New Zealand's cultural and economic ties to China are particularly strong among the Five Eyes allies. New Zealand was the first developed nation to sign a free trade deal with China in 2008, leading to a boom in exports of New Zealand milk powder and other products. China now buys twice as much from New Zealand as New Zealand's next biggest market, Australia.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a December 16, 2020, interview. On Monday, Ardern took a tougher stance on China's human rights record, saying "that the differences between our systems—and the interests and values that shape those systems—are becoming harder to reconcile." Sam James/AP Photo