10 Days After Christchurch Shootings, Jacinda Ardern Announces a Trip to China


As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand considered on Monday how her government would investigate the terrorist attack that traumatized the country 10 days ago, she also began returning to normal business, announcing that she would make a long-delayed trip to Beijing next week.

The announcement signaled a shift after signs of growing tensions between the countries. Ms. Ardern, who told reporters that she would meet with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and the country’s premier, Li Keqiang, said the long-planned trip had been scaled back to a single day in light of the attack.

The visit will be “literally 24 hours, and traveling with as little time away as possible,” Ms. Ardern said, adding that the trip had been planned “some weeks ago” and that Chinese officials had been “incredibly accommodating” about her decision to shorten it after the shooting attacks on two Christchurch mosques in which 50 people were killed.

Her original plan had been to travel with a business delegation from New Zealand and to make stops in three cities. Instead, she will travel without the group and will visit only Beijing.

There have been growing fears that New Zealand’s close economic relationship with China was fraying after Ms. Ardern was unable to schedule a visit there to follow up on a November invitation. Around the same time, the start of a much-anticipated joint tourism initiative with China was canceled, and that has now been rescheduled for Friday.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and imports more than $10 billion of its products.

Commentators suggested that Ms. Ardern’s government was facing retaliation because it had joined other Western nations in taking a tough stance against the Chinese technology company Huawei. The company took out advertisements in the country’s largest newspapers last month, trying to win public support in New Zealand for its involvement in the country’s 5G telecommunications networks.

China is an important regional and global actor with whom we must work on challenges facing the global community and those critical to the security and prosperity of our region,” Ms. Ardern told reporters on Monday, having previously played down talk of tensions.

The apparent shift in the relationship came as her cabinet met on Monday to decide what form its investigation into the Christchurch attacks would take, settling on a royal commission — an independent inquiry reserved for the most serious matters in New Zealand public life.

Ms. Ardern said the commission would investigate whether anything could have been done to prevent the attacks, in which a gunman killed 50 people and injured 50 more as they worshiped at two mosques during Friday Prayer on March 15. The gunman broadcast the killings live on Facebook.

The inquiry would also examine the accessibility of semiautomatic weapons — Ms. Ardern has already acted to ban military-style versions of such guns — the role social media played in the attack, and whether New Zealand’s security services or other government agencies could have done anything to prevent it.

Muslims in New Zealand and overseas were “quite rightly asking questions about how this terror attack was able to happen here,” Ms. Ardern said.

Dean Knight, a public law professor at Victoria University of Wellington, said royal commissions were usually led by retired judges, lawyers or industry experts and took “as long as they need to take,” though Ms. Ardern said this inquiry would not take “years” as others have in the past.

“Because they can be bespoke in their work, it’s possible to develop a strategy to deliver things promptly,” Dr. Knight said by email. “But if the inquiry is run with the tradition of court-like processes, it will slow things down.”

Ms. Ardern said it was “unacceptable” that the gunman’s video was still available on social media platforms, even after tech companies assured her that they were working to remove it. While she would not comment on the policies of individual companies, shortened videos of the shooting — which has been classified as illegal to share by New Zealand’s chief censor — were still available on Twitter on Monday.

Twitter said in an emailed statement that it had “rigorous processes and a dedicated team in place” for emergency situations such as the Christchurch attacks, and that it cooperated with law enforcement where required.

The company did not detail what the emergency processes entailed or how they differed from normal moderation tools. It did not say whether New Zealand law enforcement had made specific requests.

Twitter has asked users to report such material if they see it, but Ms. Ardern said relying on users to flag the video was “not an effective way of managing incredibly disturbing content.”

By Charlotte Graham-McLay
The New York Times


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