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China has reacted furiously to Jacinda Ardern's pointed remarks as the resistance to Beijing's push to lure multiple Pacific Island nations into a sweeping security deal mounts.
Ms Arden met with US president Joe Biden this week in what was the first visit of a New Zealand prime minister to the White House since 2014.
The pair discussed China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, saying in a joint statement such a move from China "poses national-security concerns" to both New Zealand and the US.
Ms Ardern, who has tried to avoid the brash criticism of Beijing regularly delivered by the Morrison government in the two years up to their election loss last month, also addressed "grave concerns" over human-rights abuse allegations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong's reduced autonomy and Beijing's relentless push to reunify Taiwan.
Beijing has long bemoaned the US's influence on Australia, and urged New Zealand to remain independent and avoid Washington's anti-China mentality.
"China urges the US to abandon its Cold War mentality and ideological bias, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop slandering and discrediting China," foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday.
"We hope New Zealand will adhere to its independent foreign policy and do more to enhance security and mutual trust among regional countries and safeguard regional peace and stability."
Mr Zhao branded the joint statement as "irresponsible" and said remarks on the failed Pacific deal "smear and distort China’s normal cooperation" with the region.
Responding to China's comments, Acting New Zealand Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said they didn’t expect any further diplomatic or trade fallout.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee called China’s response “grist for the mill”.
“They always state their position very, very strongly and you’d expect them to do that,” he said.
“That doesn’t stop us being able to say what we think as well. That’s the sign of a mature relationship between countries. I don’t think that we need to have a “them or us” type attitude forced upon us.”
New Zealand could face repercussions from China
Otago University international relations expert Robert Patman told News Hub it was clear Beijing is "really stung" by Ms Ardern's criticism, and would not hesitate to implement trade sanctions such as the ones slapped on Australia as Sino-Australian spiralled in 2020.
However he suggested New Zealand's more conservative approach in dealing with China in recent years allowed China to differentiate Wellington from Canberra, and not be tarred with the same brush.
"I think China tends to make a distinction between Australia and New Zealand. Australia is seen as much closer to the United States," he said.
Returning from her 10-day trip to the US, Ms Ardern suggested her visit was a success.
"We've done what we came to do," she said.
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