The Prime Minister appeared yesterday to deliver a subtle message to Foreign Minister Winston Peters telling him, she, not him, ran foreign policy.
This contrasts with her admission last year that she had not read a speech he gave in Washington directly criticising China and calling for more American involvement in the Pacific.
Asked yesterday in Parliament by Opposition Leader, Simon Bridges, about the speech and who was ultimately responsible for New Zealand’s foreign affairs, she replied: “As is, of course the convention, the Prime Minister.”
The speech is one of what appear to be a number of irritants in the relationship with China which has led to Beijing – based New Zealand businessman, David Mahon, telling The Herald that New Zealand had a problem with Beijing.
Mahon, who has been in China for 34 years, said he believed Beijing already has a strategy in place for retaliation.
“In the last almost 40 years New Zealand has had a brilliant relationship with China, more for its independence and the respect Beijing had for the way that New Zealand stood on its own principles,” the Herald quotes him as saying.
“In the last 12 months or so that has almost reversed. So there is now a very different view, almost an opposite view of New Zealand.”
Mahon said the decision to ban Huawei from supplying equipment for Spark’s 5G network was the flashpoint for the deteriorating relationship.
“We’ve got a big problem. It’s viewed as breach of trust.”
The Problem is that New Zealand would seem to have little choice over Huawei.
Even Opposition Leader, Simon Bridges, was emphatic last night that a National Government could not intervene to overturn the ban.
“We would follow the law and the due process,” he told POLITIK.
Bridges is on Parliament’s Intelligence Committee and should be well aware of the pressures that have been on New Zealand over Huawei.
On Tuesday, speaking in Hungary, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said: “If countries use Huawei equipment, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them.”
That line of argument has been interpreted in Wellington to mean that if New Zealand were to agree to Huawei supplying the equipment it would risk being asked to leave the Five Eyes Intelligence network which supplies most of this country’s foreign intelligence.
But Ardern yesterday also subtly reinforced New Zealand’s independent foreign policy position.
“New Zealand, for a number of years, has rightly had an independent foreign policy line that is in the best interests of New Zealand economically, in terms of national security, and in terms of its values,” she said.
But having said that she had a swipe at the Opposition who have been criticising foreign policy saying they were politicising what had previously been a bi-partisan policy.
She has a point.
National has decided to attack or undermine Peters on foreign policy as part of its overall strategy of trying to reduce NZ First support to below five per cent.
This is why it agreed with a number of extreme anti-Muslim right-wing groups and said it would not sign the UN Compact on Immigration — even though countries like Britain, Canada, Singapore, France and Germany have all signed up.
National Party sources say the move was designed to subvert New Zealand First by appealing to its anti-Muslim, anti-immigration supporters.
But POLITIK has been told Ardern can expect to come under pressure from corporate New Zealand to try and restore the relationship with China.
That may mean having Peters be more accommodating in his public comments about China.