Trade Relations | Chinese Premier Arrives in New Zealand

Trade Relations | Chinese Premier Arrives in New Zealand

(WELLINGTON) Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Zealand on Thursday, kicking off a tour that will also take him to Australia to develop trade ties amid a tense security environment in the region.

The six-day trip, during which Li Keqiang is scheduled to meet his New Zealand and Australian counterparts, is the first visit by a Chinese official of this rank since 2017.

Within seven years, China's relations with these two countries changed radically.

China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, and Chinese consumers love New Zealand meat, wine and milk.

But while Wellington has long been one of Beijing's closest partners among Western democracies, relations between the two countries have soured in recent years as China has sought to expand its military and diplomatic power in the Pacific.

The new New Zealand government has strengthened its relations with Australia and the United States.

It also plans to participate in the AUKUS military alliance, concluded between Washington, Canberra and London, which China views negatively.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters criticised China's desire to boost its security presence in the Pacific islands in May, warning against actions that could potentially “destabilise” or undermine regional security.

Photo by Nak Nguyen, AFP archive

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters

“New Zealand and China engage on issues where we have common interests, and we talk openly and constructively with each other on issues where we have differences,” Luxon said on Monday. “Our relationship is important, complex and strong.”

His visit follows a number of high-level Chinese officials in recent months, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi making a flying visit to the capital Wellington in early 2024.

This comes after Beijing lifted most trade barriers on Australian exports, including coal, timber, barley and wine.

China and Australia have been at odds in recent years, particularly since Australia's 2020 call for an inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, which Beijing saw as political, and Canberra's decision to exclude equipment maker Huawei from its 5G network.

China then increased its taxes on several Australian products, particularly wine, beef and barley.

Most of these additional fees have been lifted thanks to improved relations between Beijing and Canberra since Labor came to power.

But when it comes to defence, Australia favours a close alliance with the United States, to counter China's growing diplomatic and military influence in the Pacific.

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