Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta is looking to diversify New Zealand's trading relations in light of its reliance on China, saying dependence on "any one market puts us in a very difficult position".
Talking to media after a speech to the New Zealand China Council, Mahuta said New Zealand and China’s relationship was in good shape, however, she emphasised the importance of looking long term, beyond the pandemic, on trade.
According to Stats NZ, New Zealand's exports to China in the year to December 2020 was $18.6 billion (of the overall global exports of $78.2 billion), and imports were at $12.9 billion from China. Of New Zealand's exports to China, $5.6 billion of that was dairy.
"Resting our trade relationship just on one country long term is probably not the way we should be thinking about things," Mahuta said.
"What I'm looking at is to ensure we see China within our long term economic recovery and resilience ... and for that to occur we do need to have a diversity within the markets that we seek opportunity from and our trade agreements.
"It is important to ensure right now as we recover from Covid ... we are taking that approach going forward and that businesses are very aware of the need to build resilience both for economics, but actually for social wellbeing as well," she said.
Mahuta said being reliant on "any one market puts us in a very difficult position".
"The long term resilience for New Zealand businesses and traders and exporters is to look to the diversity of relationships, yes across the region and further afield, to be able to buffer some of what consequently may be a negative impact.
"We've seen Covid as a major disrupter, there is no guarantees about what the future holds."
Mahuta also spoke about advocating for human rights "in ways that are patient, pluralistic and accommodating of the views of both the weak and the strong".
"There are some things which New Zealand and China do not, cannot and will not agree," she said.
She spoke about New Zealand's public statements on the Chinese Government's treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, cyber incidents and Hong Kong - just last night tweeting: "The sentencing of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong further undermines rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people."
Mahuta also spoke about her recent comments on the treatment of Uyghur Muslims, on which she issued a joint statement with Australia to express "grave concerns" over "credible" reports of severe human rights abuses.
"We have not resolved from the concerns we have in relation to Xinjiang and the treatment of Uyghurs," Mahuta said today.
"It's something we can advocate for and call on countries to act on. Ultimately, it's for those countries to take action."
Her previous statement came after the EU, UK, US and Canada launched coordinated sanctions against Xinjiang. Mahuta said New Zealand could not follow as it does not have a domestic sanctions regime.
Mahuta also spoke about Five Eyes intelligence alliance, saying she was uncomfortable with expanding its remit on messaging.
In November China issued a warning to "beware of their eyes being poked and blinded" after New Zealand along with its Five Eyes partners — Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States — issued a statement reiterating "serious concern regarding China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong".