The New Zealand Herald
Mahuta bats away Five Eyes storm
Foreign Affairs Minister talks up NZ’s role in meeting with Australian counterpart
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta went to great lengths to point out New Zealand’s value in the Five Eyes partnership during a bilateral press conference yesterday. She shared the podium with Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne.
Mahuta has been criticised after she commented about being “uncomfortable” about the intelligencegathering group’s expanding remit.
In the press conference, Mahuta didn’t back away from that view.
“It’s not necessary all the time, on every issue, to invoke Five Eyes as your first port of call in terms of creating a coalition of support around particular issues,” the minister said.
Payne told reporters New Zealand could express its concerns in “whichever forum they themselves determine appropriate and consistent with their respective national interest”.
Mahuta was clearly feeling the pressure yesterday, given the international fallout following her comments this week, after she gave a speech about New Zealand’s relationship with China.
She told media after the speech that since she had held the Foreign Affairs portfolio, she had not wanted to use Five Eyes as the first point of contact on a range of issues that existed outside of its remit.
“That is a matter that we have raised with Five Eyes partners; that we are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of Five Eyes.”
These words prompted responses from all corners of the globe.
Mahuta went out of her way yesterday to point out how much New Zealand values the Five Eyes relationship. “We receive significant benefits from being a part of that relationship and are close allies and friends in terms of common values and principles.
“But whether or not the framework needs to be invoked every time on every issue, especially in the human rights space, is something we have expressed further views about.”
Those views — that she is “uncomfortable” with the expanding remit — drew a significant international response.
Former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tweeted: “Sorry to read the New Zealand FM has downgraded NZ role in 5 eyes arrangement”.
“And they upgraded FTA with China in February while China was imposing sanctions on Australia. Used to be our best mates. Not now.”
Meanwhile, the Global Times — the media mouthpiece of the Chinese Government — praised Mahuta’s comments. “The Five Eyes alliance, which originated from World War II, has become an anti-China clique, serving the US’ interests,” the publication said.
“New Zealand’s decision to be strategically independent offers an example for other countries.”
During the press conference, Payne said the liberal democracies of Five Eyes members Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Britain shared the same approaches to “so many . . . international issues”.
She added that this comes during an “era of great strategic competition, particularly in the Indo-Pacific”, a clear reference to China.
It is reasonably rare for ministers at this level to stray much from the diplomatic script. A notable exception was when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unloaded her discontent over Australia’s 501 deportation programme last year.
The closest thing to any kind of diplomatic spat yesterday was Payne’s gentle rebuke of Trade Minister Damien O’Connor’s comments that Australia should follow New Zealand’s lead and “show respect” to China.
“One thing I have learned in my role in this job as Australia’s Foreign Minister is not to give advice to other countries,” Payne said.