Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in New Zealand on Sunday to hold annual discussions with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern among the two neighbors about deportation policy in China and Australia.
Quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand started last month after the spread of COVID-19 was controlled by both nations, allowing the two leaders to meet face to face in the first 15 months.
The “Quarantine-free travel,” Morrison told an Australian Associated Press, “does not only mean the prime member, but I can also conduct our annual talks in person, it also shows that our traveling bulb sees friends and their families reunited across the ditch.”
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 Co 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 Organization 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 blamed the Five Eyes for pushing it with Hong Kong and Muslim Uyghur treatment statements in Xinjiang.
The policy of Australia to expel thousands of strangers convicted of crimes as part of an immigration crackdown that could remove two-nation Australian citizenship, calling it “corrosive,” has also been criticized by New Zealand.
On Monday, there will be formal talks between Ardern and Morrison.