New Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta brushed off a threat from China today to New Zealand and four other nations that they should "beware of their eyes being poked and blinded". She expressed confidence that New Zealand and China have a "mature relationship", allowing for difficult conversations.
It comes after New Zealand along with its Five Eyes partners — Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States — issued a statement yesterday reiterating "serious concern regarding China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong".
The statement called the imposition of the National Security Law and the postponement of Legislative Council elections a "clear breach of its international obligations" and a decision that "further undermines Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms".
"For the sake of Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, it is essential that China and the Hong Kong authorities respect the channels for the people of Hong Kong to express their legitimate concerns and opinions."
China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, replied with: "No matter if they have five eyes or 10 eyes, if they dare to harm China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, they should beware of their eyes being poked and blinded."
Mahuta said there was no comparison to the size of China to that of New Zealand, "but as a country we pride ourselves on keeping an independent foreign policy".
"We're critically aware of the importance of maintaining stability and prosperity in our region.
"We'll continue to advocate for the values and principles that underpin an open democracy — things like freedom of speech, the ability for people to participate in their democratic institutions, the freedom of the press.
"We've made comments on Hong Kong independently earlier this year," she said.
Mahuta added that joining the Five Eyes statement was an opportunity "to turn up the dial to say, 'There are actually many countries that feel the same way.' We're looking to China to consider the level of concern that's been expressed in relation to Hong Kong."
On the the statement of "eyes being poked and blinded" - Mahuta said that New Zealand has a respectful relationship with China.
"No matter what language China uses, I continue to express that a mature relationship would actually see through the surface to have a difficult conversation.
"If we have a mature relationship with any country, we can respect each other's differences without cutting across some fundamental rights and freedoms that should be held."