New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters has been challenged over his robust approach to China.
First, he disclosed this week that Beijing’s Foreign Minister had tried to talk him out of NZ’s Coronavirus lockdown.
Second, China’s Diplomats in Wellington have become much more active. The Ambassador has already been called into MFAT over some of her remarks.
Now the New Zealand Ambassador in Beijing has been called into the Foreign Ministry to “explain” why New Zealand supports admission of Taiwan as an observer to the World Health Assembly, run by the World Health Organisation.
New Zealand joins other countries in making its case for Taiwan to join the World Health Assembly, because of Taiwan’s record of handling the Covid-19 Pandemic. Neither Wellington nor other capitals challenge China’s “One China” policy.
The Financial Times reckons China’s Diplomats have done away with diplomacy. In a quest to counter western accusations that coronavirus originated in their country, Beijing’s emissaries over the past two months have replaced courtesy with intimidation.
Beijing has been pressuring governments from Prague to Wellington for public praise in exchange for mask shipments and circulating conspiracy theories that the US created the pandemic to hurt China.
One small example: in the Solomon Islands, which recently switched from Taiwan to China, Cabinet Ministers turned out to “welcome” a small consignment of aid from Beijing. In sharp contrast, no one greets the millions of ODA flooding in from Wellington and Canberra.
The FT identifies China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats and says they are named after recent films in which Chinese special-operations fighters defeat western-led mercenaries.
It is also part of a newer assertive policy by China in global affairs. Currently, four of the 15 UN specialised agencies are headed by Chinese nationals, from the Food and Agriculture Organisation to the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
China has become the second biggest contributor to the UN budget with 12% of the total, second only to the US.
Since 2007, the position of Under Secretary General for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has been held by Chinese career diplomats, giving the Chinese government opportunities to reshape the UN’s development programmes in accordance to its interests.
At the UN China has been promoting its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) under the guise of promoting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and DESA has endorsed the China funded BRI.
UN Secretary General António Guterres said the UN stood ready with Beijing to achieve the SDGs at the 2017 Belt & Road Forum.
In Wellington, the Labour-led Coalition Government has taken a robust approach to China, in marked contrast to what several senior ministers (including Peters) perceive was the quiescence of the National government, despite the rise in Chinese political activities in New Zealand alongside purely trade.
Will China retaliate, as it has with Australia by threatening new barley tariffs and now curbs on beef exports? Possibly, say senior officials, but on the other hand Beijing needs to feed its nation’s growing middle class.