Ardern: NZ-China engagement to increase tempo

New Zealand's Pacific reset is about the country's own relationships in the region and not those being formed by countries like China, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pledged to increase the tempo of engagement between New Zealand and China, outlining a suite of ministerial visits in the coming months.

Opening the China Business Summit in Auckland on Monday morning, Ardern also pledged to “call out” racist rhetoric against Chinese communities in New Zealand, while sidestepping questions about Beijing’s alleged interference in New Zealand.

Speaking at the Cordis Hotel, the Prime Minister described ties with China as “one of our most important and far-reaching international relationships” and said the tempo of engagement between the two countries would soon begin to increase.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters would make an official visit to Beijing in “the very near future” - understood to take place before the end of the month - while Climate Change Minister James Shaw would also visit the country in July for the second ministerial dialogue on climate change.

Newsroom understands Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker will also head to Beijing later in the year.

Ardern said the 2008 free trade deal between the two countries had been “an unprecedented success”, but current negotiations on an upgrade would help to reflect changes to the bilateral trading relationship since the original deal was signed.

New Zealand was keen to explore new areas of collaboration and cooperation, including the agritech, science and technology, winemaking, and film and television industries.

It was also important to protect the high esteem in which New Zealand was held by Chinese consumers when it came to the quality of its education, tourism and produce, she said.

“This is our hard-earned reputation, but it is also a valuable asset.”

“The basis on which we determine [relationships] and the nature of our engagement will always be based on ensuring those relationships have that foundation of applying a rules-based order, ensuring transparency, openness, and the kind of dialogue that we already share with China.”

Ardern said she was keen to emphasise New Zealand’s “core values” in the bilateral relationship, citing Shaw’s upcoming visit as an example of the common ground between the countries on environmental and climate change issues.

Differences of opinion on certain issues were normal and to be expected even with some of our closest allies, she said, “especially when we have different histories and different political systems”.

The two countries were able to raise disagreements in a respectful way, which Ardern said was a sign of the maturity of the bilateral relationship.

Ardern said New Zealand’s relationships would always be determined by its own independent foreign policy.

“The basis on which we determine [relationships] and the nature of our engagement will always be based on ensuring those relationships have that foundation of applying a rules-based order, ensuring transparency, openness, and the kind of dialogue that we already share with China.”

Asked about concerns regarding Chinese interference in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region, as raised by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a recent visit, the Prime Minister said she was “not singling out any one state agent in that conversation”, while New Zealand was not the only country affected by those issues.

“We need to rally hard against it [racist rhetoric] and I will call it out where I see it,” Ardern said.

The Government’s Pacific reset was not about the increased activity in the region being forged by other countries,but New Zealand taking responsibility for its own Pacific relationships.

“We have had a donee-donor relationship, we perhaps haven’t built the mature relationship we should have.”

Ardern also addressed the issue of China’s installation-building on disputed territory in the South China Sea, saying New Zealand held a position based on the rule of international law.

The Government welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to protect the rules-based international order, she said.

Ardern faced a tough question from the floor about discrimination against the Chinese community in New Zealand.

A questioner asked her government to stand up for the contributions of Chinese here, saying they were exposed to “hatred and contempt” and blamed for strains on the housing market, infrastructure and the jobs market.

Perhaps with the spectre of Phil Twyford’s “Chinese-sounding names” furore in the back of her mind, Ardern said migration in New Zealand was “self-evidently incredibly important”.

“We need to rally hard against it [racist rhetoric] and I will call it out where I see it,” she said.