You won’t find it on her twitter feed alongside messages of welcome to Anthony Blinken, the newly confirmed US Secretary of State. You won’t find it on the Beehive site somewhere near the Foreign Minister’s statement on the Myanmar coup. Nor will you locate it on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But at the end of last week Nanaia Mahuta gave a television interview in Australia which could be the best guide yet to how she is approaching the central question for New Zealand’s foreign policy – dealing with the rise of China.
The brief but significant exchange on this thorny question may have been overlooked by media on the eastern side of Tasman: the interview began with yet another discussion of New Zealand’s approach to covid-19. But Mahuta’s main role that evening was to set out the Ardern government’s position on a very different problem: Trade Minister Damien O’Connor’s all-too newsworthy assertion that Australia could improve its relationship with China by following New Zealand’s example and showing some more respect to Beijing. Mahuta’s response (at around the 5 minute mark) was unequivocal: “in terms of the China-Australia relationship,” she told the ABC interviewer, “that is not really something we can or should comment on. That is a matter for Australia and China to work through.” Mr O’Connor, that’s your bus coming, isn’t it?