Tuesday 2nd April 2019
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Chinese president Xi Jinping used his first state visit meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to call for mutual trust in the relationship between the two countries.
The meeting with China’s most powerful politician capped Ardern’s flying one-day visit to the Chinese capital and followed months of growing evidence that relations between the two countries were becoming strained. The Prime Minister said her meetings with President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang were "constructive and warm".
Xi described relations between China and New Zealand as having "become one of the closest between China and Western developed countries."
There were now “new opportunities for development”.
“The two sides must trust each other to pursue mutual benefit,” said Xi through an official interpreter in opening remarks before a scheduled 30-minute meeting with Ardern in Beijing’s monolithic Great Hall of the People. The meeting ran about 10 minutes over its allotted time.
Sources of tension in the relationship have been wide-ranging. The New Zealand signals intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, last year declined an application from Spark New Zealand to allow the use of Chinese-made Huawei equipment in the forthcoming 5G telecommunications network.
The coalition government has also broken with the previous administration’s practice of taking no position on China’s expansionism in the South China Sea. And late last year it joined other members of the Anglo-centric ‘Five Eyes’ global surveillance network to accuse China of cyber attacks in New Zealand, among other countries.
Also unwelcome in Beijing have been changes to the foreign investment regime to restrict the purchase of existing residential real estate and farms by Chinese investors.
However, Ardern pushed back with media at the suggestion that there was distrust in the relationship.
"That wasn't the flavour of the discussions," she said.
Ardern’s diplomatic mission was cut from a three-city, week-long tour to a single day because of the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15. Her decision to still make the trip was noted by both President Xi and Premier Li.
Ardern had a bi-lateral meeting and lunch with Premier Li after opening New Zealand’s new Chinese embassy in a ceremony early on Monday morning.
Four memoranda of agreement were signed on climate change, tax, science and “bi-lateral financial dialogue”. However, there was no substantive progress on the stalled upgrade of the free trade agreement between the two countries.
Ardern said the Chinese leadership talked in terms of "hastening and speeding up the negotiations" and acknowledged the importance of the New Zealand-China FTA to demonstrate China's commitment to multi-lateral agreements and a rules-based international order.
The two countries “agreed to hold the next round of negotiations soon and to make joint efforts towards reaching an agreement as soon as possible”, Ardern said in a statement issued after the Li meeting.
She reiterated that “New Zealand welcomes all high-quality foreign investment that will bring productive growth to our country”.
Ardern said she had proactively raised both the Huawei issue and human rights issues, particularly the Chinese government's treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, which is subject to mass detentions and 're-education' programmes.
"I believe that New Zealand has been heard on the issues that have been raised and there's been constructive dialogue, particularly when it comes to telecommunications," she said.
Ardern has been stressing that New Zealand's cyber-security laws are non-discriminatory, that the process for approving suppliers to telecommunications networks is at arms' length from the government, and that the ball is currently in Spark's court if it wishes to challenge the GCSB decision to decline Huawei's involvement in the 5G network.
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