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New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Tuesday evening as he tries to bring the message that New Zealand is “open for business” during his five-day China trip.
Hipkins said they covered various topics during their approximately 30-minute meeting, including economic, social, and cultural connections.
The prime minister said New Zealand’s relationship with China “is one of our most significant and wide-ranging” and was pleased to reaffirm this during this trip, where he is leading a 29-person business delegation.
“I emphasised the key focus of our visit was to reaffirm our close economic relationship by supporting businesses to renew their connections with Chinese counterparts and helping grow new ones to support New Zealand’s economic recovery,” he said.
Hipkins also reiterated the importance of cooperation when supporting the international rules-based order as well as the role China can play in addressing climate change and the war in Ukraine.
“We also engaged on areas where our cultures and political systems differ, and I reiterated we will always advocate for approaches and outcomes that reflect New Zealand’s independent foreign policy or interests and values, in a respectful but consistent way.”
After the meeting, Hipkins described the meeting as “warm” and “constructive.”
However, it appears they skirted around clearly addressing the human rights issue, which Hipkins said: “wasn’t discussed in great depth.”
“The economic relationship … was, by far, the biggest topic that we discussed, but we also discussed a broad range of international issues, including international relationships,” Hipkins told reporters.
According to Chinese state-run media Xinhua, Xi said he held China-New Zealand ties in great regard and saw New Zealand as a “friend and partner.”
Just before meeting Xi, Hipkins also attended the World Economic Forum’s “Annual Meeting of New Champions” in Tianjin. There, he participated in a panel alongside other leaders, including Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, with whom he had a brief side meeting.
“We would like to see a world that is open and outwards looking. There is a trend in some parts of the world to be more inward-looking,” Hipkins said during the panel.
NZ Careful Because It Lacks Military Power: Expert
Before taking off to Beijing, Hipkins told media that he didn’t agree with U.S. President Joe Biden’s calling Xi a “dictator.”
CCP’s mouthpiece, the Global Times, praised Hipkins for the move and called New Zealand’s “proactive” diplomacy and policy towards Beijing an “example” for other Western nations.
It comes as New Zealand tries to walk a tightrope between its traditional Western allies and China.
But China expert and critic Prof. Anne-Marie Brady has said New Zealand’s media should avoid putting its politicians in awkward situations because it was damaging to the country’s international reputation.
She said it was sometimes tough for politicians to properly express their position at the moment with the right words.
“Famously, both [Agriculture Minister] Damien O’Connor and [Foreign Minister] Nanaia Mahuta and Chris Hipkins had said things that they perhaps may not have wished to have had gone public or didn’t put things the way they wanted,” she told the AM show.
Brady said she believed that the reason New Zealand leaders were more careful when criticising the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) than other Western nations was because of its weak military power.
“As a small state, we have to be very careful in our foreign policy; that’s just the nature of being a small state—we can’t defend ourselves militarily,” she said.
New Zealand’s refusal to approach the CCP with tougher foreign policy previously attracted critics to call the country the “soft underbelly” of the Five Eyes alliance.
Opposition Leader Agrees
As political tit-for-tat increases ahead of the New Zealand general election in October, the leader of the opposition National Party, Christopher Luxon, had a rare show of support for Hipkins.
“I fully support what Chris Hipkins is doing in China,” Luxon told the AM show.
He also agreed with the prime minister about whether or not Xi was a “dictator.”
“I do agree with Chris Hipkins. I’d say ‘no’ and I’d say, ultimately, it’s a decision for the Chinese people,” he said.
The Labour government has tried to maintain its relationship with the CCP while Western nations have been increasingly critical of Beijing’s ever-increasing economic and military aggression and human rights abuses.
Yet Labour’s main opposition, the National Party has also maintained a soft approach towards the Communist regime.
The National Party’s 2022 donation records reveal close CCP ties, with its top donors including three high-level CCP influencers and two media executives with close CCP ties.
The leading CCP donor, Shanghai-based Lu Xinyan, is the acting head of the Australia and New Zealand offices of People’s Daily Overseas Edition. She is also the president and chairman of the board of Atlantic Media Group in New Zealand.
Close behind Lu in terms of donation amount is Lili Wang, the head of the Chinese Language Herald newspaper in New Zealand. Registered in Beijing, The Herald has been revealed in 2019 to be run by a company owned by the CCP’s state-run China News Service.
The National Party’s foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee also has a history of parroting CCP propaganda, including calling the situation in Xinjiang a “terrorism problem” when discussing a United Nations report that found credible evidence of human rights violations in the region.
Brownlee has also been extremely critical of the AUKUS security arrangement, claiming it will make New Zealand less safe.
Cindy Li contributed to this report.