Li Visit Underscores New Zealand's Rising China Dilemma

(MENAFN- Asia Times) WELLINGTON – This week, Premier Li Qiang became the first top Chinese leader to visit New Zealand in almost a decade to mark the 10th anniversary of the two sides' Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

Li, who was welcomed with full pomp and circumstance, met both Prime Minister Chris Luxon in Wellington and opposition Labour leader Chris Hipkins in Auckland, underscoring the breadth of bilateral ties.

The Chinese leader didn't shy from cultural diplomacy, seen in his recital of Chinese poetry to hail the depth of bilateral relations.

“Good friends feel close to each other even when they are far apart,” he said.“Though separated by the vast ocean, China and New Zealand enjoy a long history of friendly interactions and our peoples have forged a bond of friendship based on mutual understanding.”

Underscoring bilateral ties as the“relationship of firsts”, the Chinese premier pressed for“an in-depth discussion on bilateral relations and issues of shared interest, deepen exchanges and cooperation in various fields and upgrade the China-New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership.”

At the same time,“it is natural that we don't always see eye-to-eye with each other on everything,” Li told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Luxon.“But such differences should not become a chasm that blocks exchanges and cooperation between us.”

New Zealand was the first developed nation to negotiate a free trade agreement with China, a decision that has brought tremendous prosperity to the Pacific nation.

Two-way trade
NZ$40.31 billion
(US$24.8 billion) in 2022, with China receiving close to a third of New Zealand's total exports. The prosperous Pacific nation is among the few to have run trade surpluses with the Asian superpower in recent years.

Far from arriving empty-handed, Li announced that
China“has extended unilateral visa-free treatment to his host nation and that New Zealand would be the 'country of honor' at a Shanghai trade expo later this year.” The two sides also discussed infrastructure investment deals.

Notwithstanding the broadly cordial meetings and messaging, New Zealand-China ties have come under growing strain in recent years amid intensifying great power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific.

Human rights have been a contentious issue, with the New Zealand parliament passing a motion expressing grave concern about China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in 2021.

Rival protesters clashed in both Wellington and Auckland during Li's visit, underscoring growing tensions over China's human rights record.

Luxon said he used the meeting to highlight sensitive issues such as foreign interference and the intensification of disputes in the South China Sea.


Asia Times

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