New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the challenges of managing the economic relationship with its top trading partner, China, saying on Monday the differences between the two nations are getting "harder to reconcile."
Ardern spoke at a China Business Summit in Auckland to address criticism over the county's alleged failure to challenge China over issues such as the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and its attempts to curb democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.
"It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China's role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems, and the interests and values that shape those systems, are becoming harder to reconcile," Ardern said.
The country's partners in the West have criticized Ardern's administration for its lack of action when it comes to China. New Zealand had also been called out for being the weak link in the U.S.-led Five Eyes intelligence network.
During her speech, Ardern said the difference between both nations should not derail their relationship.
"We need to acknowledge that there are some things on which China and New Zealand do not, cannot, and will not agree. This need not derail our relationship, it is simply a reality," Ardern said.
Ardern said the differences between the two nations are not completely irreconcilable and she hopes relations will "remain strong." However, Ardern did call on China to "act in the world in ways that are consistent with its responsibilities as a growing power."
Last month, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta accused the Five Eyes alliance of moving beyond the scope of its mandate. Trade Minister Damien O'Connor also called on Australia to show "more respect" to China when expressing its concerns regarding the country's internal affairs.
Unlike its U.S. and Australian counterparts, New Zealand officials have mostly been careful not to directly criticize China and its expanding influence in the Pacific.
In contrast, Australian officials have been vocal about their criticism of China on issues such as Hong Kong and the origins of COVID-19. Its criticisms have led Chain to impose punitive levies on Australian imports along with other economic sanctions.