Foreign Affairs

National backs ‘safe haven’ visas for Hong Kongers

As New Zealand's Five Eyes partners offer refuge to Hong Kong residents over harsh new national security laws, National's foreign affairs spokesman - its ousted leader - says we should be stepping up too

The National Party has called on the Government to consider granting “safe haven visas” to residents of Hong Kong at risk from its newly adopted and widely condemned national security legislation.

The party’s foreign affairs spokesman, its former leader Simon Bridges, also says New Zealand should be standing more strongly alongside its Five Eyes partners over the issue.

The Chinese government pushed through the wide-reaching national security law late last month, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislative council and giving Beijing powers to crack down on the protesters who have caused it high-profile embarrassment.

While New Zealand has criticised the legislation, it has until recently maintained a distance from its partners in the Fives Eyes security alliance, notably absent from joint statements on the matter.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters last week announced a review of New Zealand’s relationship with Hong Kong in light of the national security law “to determine the appropriate nature of our cooperation going forward”.

Speaking to Newsroom, Bridges said Hong Kong was, Covid-19 aside, the most significant global issue at present, as the law undermined both human rights and the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.

While the Government had expressed some concerns about the legislation, New Zealand needed to be “in lockstep with those Five Eyes partners given the seriousness of what has happened”.

“You could say...the wording differences are minor but it does seem to me that we’ve fallen short somewhat from where Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States have been.”

National's foreign affairs spokesman (and yak enthusiast) Simon Bridges says his party believes New Zealand should be "in lockstep" with its Five Eyes partners on the issue of Hong Kong. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Bridges said New Zealand should consider following in the footsteps of Australia and the United Kingdom, with both Five Eyes partners suspending extradition arrangements with Hong Kong and offering “safe haven visas” to Hong Kong residents who feared persecution from Chinese authorities.

In late 2019, the then-National leader faced criticism over a visit to China where he praised the CCP’s “amazing story” and met a high-ranking Chinese official in charge of the country’s controversial security and intelligence apparatus.

Bridges said he had no regrets about the trip, but argued the context for New Zealand’s relationship with China was changing as the superpower became more assertive on the world stage.

“Quite a lot has happened since that visit, the most significant of which is the national security law in Hong Kong.”

He described the US-China relationship as “the most worrying geopolitical fracturing since the first proper Cold War”, and said the current state of the international order made it more important than ever for New Zealand to stand up for its values.

“What is happening in the world right now is more dangerous and more concerning than it was even a small number of years ago.”

While multilateral bodies like the World Health Organisation had not performed perfectly during the Covid-19 pandemic, their broader role was still vital for global stability.

“I’ve been gratified throughout my career to excite Winston from time to time and it’s always possible that will happen in the last three weeks of the final sitting block."

“Those global institutions aren’t about getting us to heaven, they’re about protecting us from hell, and albeit with their flaws and their warts and some big issues that I wouldn’t want to underplay, New Zealand as an isolation nation geographically has no choice but to seek to be in those organisations, stick up for them, while seeking to improve and reform them along the way.”

However, Bridges confirmed National would still withdraw New Zealand from the UN Migration Compact if it won power at the election, saying the party was pro-immigration but did not believe multilateral bodies should be “prescribing at some level our immigration policy”.

Speaking about his ascension to the foreign affairs role - a portfolio his successor Todd Muller reportedly denied Bridges when he first asked for it - the Tauranga MP said he was excited to take on a new challenge at a time when foreign policy was more important than ever.

Intriguingly, the job will also pit him against Foreign Affairs Minister and familiar sparring partner Winston Peters in Parliament - although with precious little time left before the House rises for the election, Bridges will have to make the most of limited opportunities.

“I’ve been gratified throughout my career to excite Winston from time to time and it’s always possible that will happen in the last three weeks of the final sitting block.

“That said, I’m not sure I’ll get much sense from him, and I’m not sure that will be a make or break for the election, so we’ll just see.”

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