New Zealand backs "Five Eyes" alliance, but wants human rights raised in broader group

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during an interview in Wellington, New Zealand December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathon Molloy

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand expressed support for its Five Eyes alliance with Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, calling it a "vital security and intelligence partnership", a day after saying it didn't support broadening the group's role.

Following a speech on China on Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said New Zealand was "uncomfortable" with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes, raising speculation that Wellington didn't back recent Five Eyes statements critical of Beijing.

China, New Zealand's largest trading partner, has accused the Five Eyes of ganging up on China by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

In a statement to Reuters on Tuesday, Mahuta said the Five Eyes remained vital for New Zealand for intelligence, police, border security, defence and cyber cooperation.

"New Zealand is a real beneficiary of the arrangement and will continue to actively engage with the Five Eyes alliance as we always have," she said.

"There will be some areas on which it's useful to coordinate through the Five Eyes platform; but there will be other areas - human rights for example - where we want to look to building a broader coalition of countries to take positions."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters on Tuesday that New Zealand was "absolutely reaffirming our commitment to that Five Eyes partnership".

Ardern added that sometimes the Five Eyes will make collective statements, and in other cases New Zealand would make statements with Australia, or on its own.

"Not every issue we speak as New Zealand is a security and intelligence issue," she said.

Australia's foreign affairs minister Marise Payne will travel to New Zealand on Wednesday for meetings with Mahuta and Ardern, the first diplomatic visit between the neighbouring countries since borders reopened both ways.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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