'Stabbed in the back': China threatens 'double-faced' NZ with tourism 'stick' following Huawei ban
Chinese state media have claimed Chinese tourists are abandoning New Zealand due to its decision to ban Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from operating in the country last year.
- China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner
- Beijing has previously used Chinese tourism as a diplomatic tool
- Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there are “complexities” in the relationship
The article, published by Chinese state-owned media Global Times, claims Chinese tourists are considering abandoning their travel plans into the country as a way to “punish” New Zealand over its decision to ban mobile company Spark from using Huawei equipment in its 5G upgrade.
It also says the political relationship between the two nations is now “strained”.
“Is it a kind of robbery?,” a Beijing-based worker with the surname Li, who identified himself as a patriot, was quoted as saying in the article.
“New Zealand stabbed us in the back but asks for our money? This is double-faced.”
Robert Ayson, professor of strategic studies at the Victoria University of Wellington, told the ABC that China is letting its displeasure about Huawei be known.
He described Huawei as being “at the forefront of China’s quest for leadership in information technology”, therefore accepting it is a sign of “accepting the technological side of China’s rise”.
China has been the fastest-growing visitor market to New Zealand with numbers expected to double by 2023 to around 913,000 visitors.
Last week, Beijing decided to pull out of a landmark tourism partnership deal dubbed the “China-New Zealand Year of Tourism”, which was expected to bring in $NZ2.3 billion per year within four years.
The partnership has been in the works for a year and described as an opportunity for the two countries “to strengthen economic ties through tourism”.
Beijing has used the tourism ‘stick’ before
Beijing has previously used tourism as a ‘stick’ to “punish Chinese detractors”, when it banned state-run package tours from visiting the Pacific Island of Palau in 2017 — possibly due to diplomatic tensions with Taiwan — as well as an unofficial ban on Chinese tours travelling to South Korea just months before the Winter Olympics, due to the deployment of a US-backed anti-missile system.
Both boycotts had a significant impact on the respective countries economies.
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China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and Chinese visitors are the second largest source of tourism entering the country, according to the New Zealand Tourism board, which has a dedicated section on how to best prepare for Chinese tourists on its website.
Dr Ayson told that ABC that Beijing could do a lot worse to punish New Zealand if it wanted to.
“[Tourism] is something that can be turned on and off a little without breaking a relationship for good,” he said.
“I think a really severe campaign of pressure could be counter-productive to China and I think Beijing knows this.”
While Beijing is showing its displeasure in “more than just words”, according to Dr Ayson, it has not officially removed New Zealand from its list of countries with Approved Destination Status (ADS), possibly showing its willingness to continue positive diplomatic relations with Wellington.
ADS has become a diplomatic tool for Beijing and decisions on it are significant.
A country that has ADS allows state-run Chinese tour agents to operate group package tours, which significantly contribute to the large numbers of inbound visitors.
“China may be hoping in New Zealand’s case that some plausibly deniable expressions of pressure might make Wellington think twice about the approach it has been taking,” Dr Ayson said.
“I don’t think China wants to completely lose its relationship with Australia and New Zealand, even though those relationships are not as positive as they once were.”
‘Our relationship with China is complex’: Ardern
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted there were “complexities” between Beijing and Wellington’s relationship, but dismissed concerns of a diplomatic row.
But she said no final decision had been made on whether Huawei equipment could be used in the planned network upgrade.
In a television interview on Tuesday, Ms Ardern said telco Spark had the option of mitigating concerns about Huawei raised last year by New Zealand’s spy agency.
“I’m not here to pass assessments on vendors,” she told Newshub.
“It’s in the public domain that issues and concerns have been raised, but again, as I say, the ball is in now back in the court of the company that made the application, and that is Spark.”
Her address comes after months of diplomatic tension between the two countries, including a postponed scheduled visit to China, and an Air New Zealand flight bound for Shanghai diverted back reportedly due to documentation that references Taiwan.
While there is no clear direct connection to what appears to be China’s changing view on New Zealand tourism, “most of the evidence is circumstantial, but that circumstantial evidence is important,” Dr Ayson said.
“I don’t think we can say with certitude is that the Huawei decision is the only issue,” he said, referring to comments the New Zealand Government made over the disputed South China Sea and calling out Beijing for unwanted cyber activities in the country.
“It’s now up to New Zealand to see how it manages this … And we don’t quite know how the Canadians will do it. So I expect the story on Huawei has not finished yet.”