There is now only a subtle and very small difference between Australia and New Zealand over whether they support President Biden’s call for an investigation into the Wuhan origins of Covid.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday specifically named Biden when he supported the call at his joint press conference with Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown yesterday.
She, on the other hand, while endorsing the need for an investigation, named the World Health Organisation as the body which should undertake it.
But as officials pointed out, both leaders wanted an investigation, and that was the important point.
That is also the point that China has been opposing.
What was evident both in the communique issued at the end of the pair’s talks and in their joint media conference was that New Zealand is now inching closer to Australia’s position on China.
We are not there yet, but it would seem we are on our way.
Morrison himself invoked the spirit of ANZAC and included a “tena koutu” in his speeches as he lauded the closeness of his relationship with Ardern and of Australia with New Zealand.
The formal statement issued after the meeting included some new language and a whole new section on human rights in China.
The section on the South China Sea was stiffened up with the addition of the word “intensification” to the section from the last communique talking about the leaders’ serious concerns about destabilising activities in the Sea.
And for the first time after one of their summits, the two leaders have included a section on human rights in Hong Kong and expressed their “grave concerns” about human rights among the Uighurs.
Ardern reacted strongly when she was asked by an Australian journalist whether New Zealand relied too heavily on Australian dollars for defence and intelligence sharing.
“And is that what you appear to be cosying up to China?”
Ardern said she would have liked to ask for evidence to support the contention within the question.
“You’ve already heard me speak directly and strongly to refute the assertion that we are doing anything other than maintaining a very principled position on human rights issues, on trade issues as they relate to China,” she said.
“And in fact, I think you’ll find very little difference in many of the messages that we’ve been sending relative to Australia.”
The Australian journalists pressed the theme that New Zealand was too close to China.
Morrison was asked whether he believed New Zealand had sold its sovereignty to China.
“No, is my short answer,” he said.
“Australia and New Zealand are trading nations.
“But we neither of us would ever trade our sovereignty or trade our values.
“We have stood by side by side to defend and protect and promote these values, not just on the beaches of Gallipoli, but in Afghanistan and in so many other places around the world.
“This is a commitment that we share and that we honour.”
Morrison went on to suggest that there were “those” trying to split New Zealand and Australia apart.
The Chinese Communist Party newspaper, “Global Times” on Sunday, argued that Australia’s deteriorating trade relationship with China was its own fault.
“The irony is that instead of reflecting on the provocative actions and hostility toward China, some politicians and media outlets in Australia have been trying to step up pressure on New Zealand, in the hope of dragging it into the same mire,” it said.
It was clear this sort of commentary that Morrison was targeting.
“I think as great partners, friends, allies, indeed family, there will be those far from here who would who would seek to divide us, and they will not succeed,” he said.
“Because as we’ve stood resolutely together for the values and principles that Australians and New Zealanders have stood for.
“And that will continue to be the case so partnering successfully as we’ve always done, whether it’s in the Five Eyes in particular or more broadly whether it’s in the OECD or the multilateral fora, the World Trade Organization or indeed the work that we’ve done through the World Health Organization, where we share very strong views.
“And so we will continue to work together in that way.
“And I have no doubt there will be those who would seek to undermine Australia and New Zealand’s security by seeking to create points of difference which are not there.”
Nevertheless, differences remain.
Ardern stressed the role of the World Health Organisation when she was asked whether New Zealand would support an inquiry into a resurgence of claims that Covid may have escaped from a Wuhan virology laboratory.
“If I could start on the WHO and the inquiries that have been undertaken there, I think it’s very clear from the outset that even from the perspective of the international community, that that was really tranche one,” she said.
“That was the beginning of some of that investigatory work in which we all will benefit from understanding the origin of this current pandemic.
“We have, of course, long supported and continue to do so, the work that the WHO is doing to investigate the origin of the pandemic.
And it was also given that there would be a second tranche
“We would be concerned at any suggestion that we weren’t able to complete that work, because as an international community, how do we better protect ourselves from a further outbreak in the future if we don’t understand what happened in the first place?
“So yes, absolutely we will continue to work with others in encouraging and supporting the WHO to complete the mission that we are all very reliant on.”
Morrison’s response to the same question was subtly different.
First, he paid tribute to the original WHO report chaired by Helen Clark.
Then: “Now, there’s clearly a lot more work to do. And I would share the view put forward by the United States. It’s important that we understand this for public health is nothing to do with global politics. This has nothing to do with anything other than ensuring that the global pandemic, which has caused such havoc around the world, stealing lives and livelihoods, that we understand how this occurred so we can do everything we possibly can to ensure that that does not happen again.”
New Zealand may be family to Australia — as Morrison continually says — but its best mate is the United States.
Asked about recent comments from an Australian official suggesting conflict in the East Asian region with China was inevitable, Morrison said there was strategic competition between the United States and China, but that conflict was not inevitable.
“What we both (The United States and Australia) pursue through the many ways we work together is a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
And he said the ANZUS alliance (which commits Australia and United States to consulting each other on military action) would guide all ultimate decisions made within the context of the alliance.
And that ultimately is the d.ifference between Australia and New Zealand