A week after the UK suspended its extradition treaty with China, New Zealand announced Tuesday it will follow the lead of its intelligence allies by suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
The move comes in response to China passing a sweeping new security law for the semi-autonomous territory.
New Zealand is the final member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance to take such action after the U.S., Australia, Canada and the U.K. previously announced similar measures.
It should be noted that New Zealand relies on China as its largest trading partner and in the past has often tried to avoid direct political confrontation. China each year buys billions of dollars worth of New Zealand’s agricultural goods, including its lucrative milk powder which is used in infant formula.
But Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the new law went against commitments China had made to the international community.
“New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China,” Peters said.
He said there would be other changes to the relationship. New Zealand would now treat military and technology exports to Hong Kong in the same way as it treats such exports to China, he said, and had updated its travel advice to warn New Zealanders about the risks they faced under the new law.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was following its principles.
“We do have a mature relationship with China,” Ardern said. “There have been occasions where we have taken different positions. This obviously will be one of them.”
China says the new security law is needed to combat terrorism and separatism and prevent Hong Kong from becoming a base for undermining Chinese state power. In general, cases would be tried in Hong Kong, but the law allows for mainland jurisdiction in some circumstances.
Peters said New Zealand had taken its stance independently of its Five Eyes partners and wasn’t concerned about any impact on exports.
“We are surely entitled as a democracy to make our views known,” he said.
He said New Zealand remains deeply concerned about the legislation and would monitor the situation in Hong Kong as the new law was enforced.
China’s embassy in Wellington, led by ambassador Wu Xi, said Tuesday it was preparing a response to the announcement. Earlier this month, as New Zealand considered such a move, the embassy urged New Zealand to “stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and refrain from going any further down the wrong path.”