The upcoming visit by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to China, albeit delayed and shortened, is a “Visit by a Friend,” Chinese experts said.
They said key messages could be expected at the end of the Prime Minister’s visit.
Prime Minister Ardern will pay an official visit to China from Sunday to Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced earlier this week.
Prime Minister´s trip had to be curtailed from a three-city visit to just one day in Beijing, as a result of the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15.
Ning Tuanhui, a Research Assistant with the China Institute of International Studies, told media that New Zealand Prime Minister’s visit this time will focus on repairing bilateral ties and bringing relations back to the right track.
Key points to be observed include New Zealand’s attitude on Chinese firms participation on its 5G network construction, and whether there is new commitment on the China proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the run-up to the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to be held in Beijing in April.
It will be worth paying attention to such a statement, after countries like Italy and Luxembourg pledged support for the inclusive initiative in the past week. Analysts said Ardern’s visit will be an example to the West that economic growth and development are still fundamental for smaller countries.
Han Feng, a research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the visit shows New Zealand is taking a pragmatic approach in its China policy since good bilateral relations are important.
“The length of the visit matters, but political willingness matters more. If there is enough political will from both sides, no one can say one day is too short. One day can be productive enough,” he said.
However, it is difficult to talk about the economic relationship without factoring in the political relationship, and sometimes a weakened political relationship tends to contaminate people-to-people exchanges, experts said.
Some Chinese tourists are growing wary about travelling to New Zealand, following a potential ban on Huawei from its 5G networks, reporters found.
Analysts said the visit is in part driven by New Zealand to further develop its economy, now stagnant and facing bottlenecks. Ignoring the Chinese market would be too costly, they said.
“Globalisation and a free trade agreement (FTA) with China will keep New Zealand closely engaged in the region and the world. So China-New Zealand relations will go beyond the bilateral level on equality, mutual benefit and respect,” Han said.
In 2015, New Zealand became the first Western country to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and in 2017 it became the first developed Western country to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the BRI with China.
In 2018, Sino-New Zealand trade volume reached $16.8 billion, up 14 percent year-on-year as China continues to be New Zealand’s largest trading partner.
“In terms of economic cooperation, there should not be too many problems due to the two countries’ complementarities. An upgrade of the FTA signed 11 years ago is only a matter of time,” Ning said.
“But the issue is: will the Ardern Administration stop actions that damage China-New Zealand ties,” Ning noted.
The two countries are working on upgrading their FTA, with multiple rounds of talks, and negotiations are now focused on detailed aspects, such as defining the origin of products and trade facilitation.
“If New Zealand could reopen options that do not exclude Huawei and other Chinese telecom equipment makers, it would be best,” Ning said.
Analysts pointed out that despite a wave of concern over the “China threat” theory in 2018, many nations are showing pragmatism as they prioritise economic growth and development ahead of other factors in today’s world, where peace is the dominant theme.
New Zealand’s neighbour is taking action. The Australian government has announced on Friday a new $31.2 million foundation to “turbo charge” its engagement with China, at the same time appointing Graham Fletcher, a fluent Chinese-speaker, as its new ambassador to Beijing, according to a report by ABC.
The moves are believed to be aimed at easing Australia’s growing tensions with China over the ban on Chinese telecom firms’ 5G bids and foreign interference laws.
“Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is characterised by strong economic ties and collaboration on our shared priorities,” read a statement sent to media by the Australian Embassy in Beijing.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade in 2017-18 totalling $195 billion, the statement said.