NZ should 'keep its head down' as global tensions rise with China - analyst

Concerns have been raised around former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark taking on the role of co-chair in the World Health Organization's independent panel into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Economist Rodney Jones says China’s recent moves in Hong Kong are a breathtaking advance towards direct rule in the former colony.

Wigram Capital Advisors' Rodney Jones, who has been working as an economist and analyst in Asia for nearly three decades, told TVNZ1's Q+A he feels now is the time smaller countries like New Zealand "should keep their heads down" in the international pushback against China. 

"This is the clash of the giants, if you like, and we have very different interests," he said. 

"I'm a little bit uncomfortable with that because Helen Clark is a very successful former New Zealand Prime Minister and it's going to be hard to keep the New Zealand name out of it."

It comes after China accused New Zealand of gross interference when the Government suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, following China's introduction of a controversial new security law for the former British colony.  

Mr Jones says New Zealand was justified in its actions.

"On Friday night, we had a 16-year-old arrested for a social media post on national security law and could be facing life imprisonment," he says.

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"Would the New Zealand Government extradite a 16-year-old to Hong Kong under the national security law? It's obvious we wouldn't, so why have the agreement?"

He says the extradition treaty suspension will "mature" New Zealand's greater relationship with China, noting that while it is China's "sovereign right to do as they wish," the countries have "diverging interests".

"It's not in New Zealand's interest for Hong Kong to come under direct rule from Beijing and yet that is what has happened," Mr Jones says. 

"Our interests are diverging, and for us to articulate that is not interference - it's merely stating the facts."

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Addressing a recent car crash which killed two Chinese dissidents and seriously injured a third, Mr Jones says it "clearly wasn't sabotage" as has been speculated.

The men were on their way to petition the Government over the issue of the Chinese Communist Party's political interference in New Zealand when the crash occurred. 

Mr Jones says it was a "tragic accident", but the fact concerns were raised "reflects the fear that parts of the Chinese community live with".  

"We don't articulate our beliefs, emphasise our democracy, that we have freedom and we don't act without fear," he says.

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"We're afraid of what China may do on trade, and so we act fearfully and they detect that fear."

The Hong Kong government yesterday announced it would delay its elections for one year, citing concerns around the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the region.

Mr Jones is sceptical of the reasoning, calling it a "breathtaking advance by China into Hong Kong".

"This is really becoming direct rule of Hong Kong from Beijing."