Through Geoffrey miller*

Analysis – A statement issued by the New Zealand government alleging Chinese state involvement in the hack goes far beyond a simple pro forma endorsement of the views of New Zealand allies.

New Zealand flag shown with program code.
Photo: 123RF

New Zealand joined its Western allies on Monday in issuing a statement denouncing the Chinese state’s alleged involvement in the hacking.

The statement, titled “New Zealand Condemns Malicious Cyber ​​Activity by Chinese State Sponsored Actors,” leaves no room for ambiguity.

Beijing knows that New Zealand will sometimes make critical statements about China.

But this statement is unusually straightforward.

It cannot be easily reinterpreted in a more positive light.

Significantly, this is New Zealand’s own statement – not a joint statement made with one or more of its partners.

Earlier this year, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta issued two joint statements with her Australian counterpart – one on “human rights violations” in Xinjiang, the other on erosion of democracy in Hong Kong.

There was no similar movement this time around.

As the timing was coordinated, each Five Eyes country – as well as the European Union, Japan and NATO – issued a separate statement on the issue of hacking with quite different wording.

EU countries – which also joined in the coordinated condemnation of China – only issued a joint statement by Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

The EU statement appears to be milder than New Zealand’s own post, with the headline “Urging Chinese Authorities to Take Action Against Malicious Cyber ​​Activity From Its Territory.”

As Reuters underlined, the wording of the EU deliberately leaves an ambiguity as to the identity of the perpetrator. This leaves open the theoretical possibility (and saves face) that the cyber attacks were carried out by non-state criminal actors who are simply located within China’s borders.

Additionally, New Zealand’s statement specifically and “separately” identifies “Chinese state-sponsored actors” as being behind cyber attacks on Microsoft Exchange servers in New Zealand earlier this year.

The key word in Little’s statement is “separately”.

Disclosure of details which relate specifically to New Zealand’s own situation is designed to show that New Zealand is directly involved.

The statement may also be a signal to both China and New Zealand allies that New Zealand can talk tough with China anytime it wants.

From Beijing’s point of view, perhaps the only saving grace of New Zealand’s statement is the fact that it was only issued under the name of GCSB Minister Andrew Little, rather than that of the Ministers of the United States. Foreign Affairs or Defense.

The UK’s statement on Monday was issued under the name of its foreign minister, while Australia’s statement was issued jointly by its defense, foreign and home ministers.

Given the sensitivities, Little perhaps plays a particularly useful role for the New Zealand government as a “bad cop” who can speak harsh words when needed – at least when a clear connection to his intelligence portfolio. can be established.

The GCSB minister issued a similar statement in April denouncing “Russian state actors” against last year’s “SolarWinds” hack that targeted a range of organizations and institutions, including the US federal government.

This statement was not as important as Monday’s on China, both because Russia is a much smaller trading partner for New Zealand and because of the lack of a real connection with New Zealand. -Zeeland.

The statement admitted that there was “no indication that New Zealand organizations were targeted” in the SolarWinds hack.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gives video keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 2021 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Photo: AFP

The stern statement on China released by New Zealand on Monday is a realistic shot through the arc.

This contrasts sharply with the more idealistic approach of last week.

Last week’s diplomacy cycle led by Jacinda Ardern – culminating at the APEC virtual summit on Covid-19 on Friday – focused on inclusion and dialogue.

Xi Jinping was greeted with open arms at the virtual diplomatic table by Ardern, who once again assumed her natural unifying role.

By the simple fact of its existence and the apparent bonhomie, the summit was a success.

It may also have hinted at an alternative way to ease tensions – based on dialogue.

Xi praised Jacinda Ardern’s “great efforts” in organizing the summit. And to show his respect to the host nation of the summit – and perhaps to return Ardern’s diplomatic kindness – he even used a Maori proverb in the closing remarks of his speech.

The saying translates to “Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

It seems the shadows of the West are now falling on Xi.

* Geoffrey Miller is an international analyst at Democracy Project.