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Big challenges for NZ-China relations

Opinion Piece

While New Zealand rugby fans of both codes may have been distracted by major developments last week, these pale before signs that the Government has a potential problem in its relationship with China.

The announcement by Irish coach Joe Schmidt that he would not seek the All Blacks coach’s job after next year’s World Cup disappointed many and thrust the limelight back on the present coach Steve Hansen to stay. Hansen has intimated he might announce his decision at this week’s rugby awards.

Warrior’s kingpin Shaun Johnson abruptly ended his career with the league club on a sour note and will play for Cronulla next year, disappointing most fans.

But by far the news last week with most significance was the decision by the Government Communications Security Bureau to block the Chinese company Huawei from being part of Spark’s plans to build a 5G network.

The agency is not really required to explain itself, but it is pretty obvious that its concerns are based around the company’s links with the Communist Party.

There are suggestions that the GCSB was responding to pressure from the United States, but India and Australia have also banned Huawei and other countries are looking at doing so as well on national security grounds.

Whatever the rationale, it is a snub to China and puts the Government in a tricky position.

China is our biggest trading partner with two-way trade last year of $26 billion, a threefold increase over the past decade. Also, New Zealand is trying to negotiate a better free trade agreement so this is not a time to offend the dragon.

But there are concerns about China’s efforts to increase its influence in the Pacific, challenging New Zealand and Australia on their own doorstep. And the burglary of the home and office of China critic Canterbury academic Anne-Marie Brady has aroused suspicion.

Relations between China and the US are stretched, with a naval confrontation in the South China Sea last week and an ongoing trade war. It is important that New Zealand is not seen to take sides, but that is going to require some world-class diplomacy.