April 27 2017, updated 2:47pm

Anti-China protest shadows NZ trade deal

Last updated 01:15 17/03/2008

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Prime Minister Helen Clark says she is not going to shoot her mouth off about the situation in Tibet until she knows what the facts are but was prepared to speak out if peaceful protesters had been killed.

She also said today it was ridiculous to suggest dumping New Zealand's soon to be signed trade deal with China over the events.

Green MP Keith Locke has called on the Government to condemn China's actions against protesters in Tibet.

Mr Locke said New Zealand should not give the impression it cared more about the upcoming trade deal with China than Tibetans' human rights.

"New Zealand cannot stand silently by while Tibetan protesters are drowned in blood," Mr Locke said.

"Our Government should speak out against the repression in Lhasa in the same manner as it did last year when the Burmese junta fired into crowds of protesting monks."

Tibet has been racked by protests in recent days - until now in the regional capital Lhasa, with some reports that dozens had died in the turmoil. The violence had spread to neighbouring Aba county with claims of abuses by authorities and counter claims of mob violence.

Miss Clark told Breakfast on TV One that New Zealand's position was not out of line with international leaders - countries were waiting to establish the facts and urging restraint on both sides.

"We're still trying to get to the bottom of exactly what happened," she said.

"We do support peaceful protest, we don't support disproportionate reaction to peaceful protest. What we don't know is how these protests started out - were they peaceful, were they violent? If there's looting, arson and rioting that will get a response anywhere in the world, but if there is a response to be had it should be a proportionate one."

Asked on Newstalk ZB if New Zealand would consider ditching signing its imminent trade deal with China if its authorities were found to be in the wrong, Miss Clark said the idea was "ridiculous". She also was dismissive on an Olympic boycott call saying she did not think it had international support.

Mr Locke called the Government's wait for the facts argument "weasel words".

Miss Clark said on Breakfast the Greens and others opposed the trade deal "...and they will use whatever is in the headlines at any particular time to continue their opposition to it".

Miss Clark had personally raised human rights and Tibet issues with Chinese leadership: "That's not going to change."

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She did not think New Zealand was treating China differently to other countries like Zimbabwe and Fiji where New Zealand has taken a tough line.

"I don't believe we do, what we are waiting to establish is what are the facts ... Now I'm not going to shoot my mouth off till I know more about the facts of it and I don't think you'd expect me to do so."

Miss Clark said New Zealand's position could change.

"It's not rock and a hard place if facts were established that made it clear that bullets had been fired on peaceful crowds, of course we'd say something. But I don't have that information."

 

National leader John Key said the Tibetan riots were "far from satisfactory", but trade negotiations with China were "independent" from human rights concerns.

"It is very unlikely that they will have any impact on the free-trade agreement. We have been working on that for a long time. We acknowledge the situation in Tibet is far from satisfactory, but that is independent from trade," he said. "The issues around human rights in China and Tibet are not new issues and so in a sense we see them as independent to establishing a trade relationship."

He believed a strong trading relationship would put New Zealand in a better position to raise human rights concerns.

China's sensitivities around the Olympics have seen it block access to Mount Everest for the first time since it was conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.

- NZPA and The Press

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