New Zealand’s parliamentary vote on whether China’s human rights breaches in Xinjiang amount to genocide appears doomed, with Labour to swing its majority against the motion.
And there’s little attempt to hide why parliament will take a different position to recent votes in the UK and Canada: New Zealand’s trade dependence.
Trade minister Damien O’Connor made no bones about the fact a vote to label the atrocities as genocide would come with repercussions from NZ’s biggest trade partner.
“No doubt it would have some impact. It’s hardly rocket science,” he said.
“These are issues we have to work through very, very carefully. Clearly the Chinese government wouldn’t like something like that.”
NZs acquiescence in the face of possible Chinese intimidation is likely to make many in Australia, UK, USA and Canada – its Five Eyes allies – queasy as to the nature of Kiwi allegiances.
Last month, conservative commentators and MPs attacked Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta for saying NZ would no longer criticise China through the lens of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.
Should NZ’s parliament fall short of declaring atrocities against Xinjiang’s Uighur people as genocide, it is likely to fuel more criticism towards Jacinda Ardern’s government.
NZ’s five parliamentary parties all met on Tuesday to consider their positions ahead of an expected vote in parliament on Wednesday.
Ms Ardern said on Monday she expected her party would vote as a bloc.
“We will have a caucus discussion, absolutely. What I will seek from caucus is for us to build a consensus over it,” she said.
Given Labour has 65 MPs in the 120-seat house, it’s Labour’s discussion which is crucial to the outcome.
Several Labour MPs were quizzed on the matter on their way into the party room meeting on Tuesday.
None gave support to a declaration of genocide.
Ms Ardern cautioned against the declaration, saying instead she wanted a fresh independent fact-finding mission to uncover more evidence.
“New Zealand has already rightly spoken out of our grave concerns around human rights abuses in the region,” she said.
“My view … is that when you step into a language like genocide there is international law that sits around the use of that.”
Previous investigations and media reporting from Xinjiang suggests mass rape, torture, forced labour and sterilisation may be occurring in China’s Muslim-majority region.
Opposition leader Judith Collins, who also wouldn’t commit her party to voting for the motion, agreed with a question that NZ was “beholden” to China because of its trade dependence.
“Clearly we are … 29, 30 per cent of our trade goes to China. It’s the elephant in the room isn’t it, when we discuss issues like this,” she said.
“The past should have taught us that we should never have all our eggs in one basket when it comes to trade.”
New Zealand has formally recognised three international countries as responsible for genocide: Nazi Germany, Rwanda and Cambodia.