WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in New Zealand on Sunday (May 30) for annual talks with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern amid differences between the two neighbours on China and Australia’s deportation policy.
Quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand began last month after both nations controlled the spread of Covid-19, allowing the two leaders meet face to face for the first time in 15 months.
“Quarantine-free travel not only means the prime minister and I can hold our annual talks in person, it highlights that our travel bubble is seeing friends and family reunite across the ditch,” Morrison said upon arrival, according to the Australian Associated Press.
Both leaders have touted the their bilateral bond, with Ardern saying earlier this month that the relationship with Australia was New Zealand’s “closest and most important”. But there are multiple areas of friction.
Chief among them are differences on how to manage relations with China, the biggest trading partner of both.
Australia’s ties with China have sunk to their lowest point in decades in the past 18 months after Morrison led calls for a global enquiry into the origins of Covid-19 and Australia barred Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies from its 5G network.
China has in recent months moved to restrict imports of Australian products such as barley, wine and beef, with the World Trade Organisation saying on Friday it would a dispute settlement panel on the barley row.
New Zealand has taken a more accommodating approach toward China, with the two countries this year upgrading their free trade agreement.
New Zealand also said last month it was “uncomfortable” with expanding the role of the Five Eyes, a post-war intelligence grouping that also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada. This raised speculation that Wellington did not back the group’s recent criticisms of Beijing.
China has accused the Five Eyes of ganging up on it with statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.
New Zealand has also criticised Australia’s policy of deporting thousands of foreigners convicted of crimes as part of an immigration crackdown that can strip dual-nationals of their Australian citizenship, calling it “corrosive”.
Formal talks between Ardern and Morrison are to take place on Monday.