1 Apr 2019

PM formally opens NZ embassy in Beijing

7:44 pm on 1 April 2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told China's Premier Li Keqiang she wanted to visit the country to underscore the importance of their relationship.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a signing ceremony in Beijing.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a signing ceremony in Beijing. Photo: AFP

Her planned week-long trip to the country was shortened following the 15 March mosque terrorist attacks in Christchurch.

Ms Ardern received an official welcome with a guard of honour in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing during her whirlwind 24-hour visit to the city.

She then headed into official talks with Premier Li and is to later meet with President Xi Jinping.

She said she and Premier Li reiterated their shared commitment to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

"Premier Li and I discussed the importance of the economic relationship between New Zealand and China and ways this can be strengthened," Ms Ardern said.

"We discussed the FTA upgrade, and agreed to hold the next round of negotiations soon and to make joint efforts towards reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

She said they also discussed China's Belt and Road Initiative and she told him New Zealand welcomes "all high quality foreign investment that will bring productive economic growth to our country".

They also released a joint statement on doing more together to address climate change, Ms Ardern said.

Visit underlines China's importance to NZ - Ardern

Speaking at the Great Hall, Ms Ardern thanked Li for his words of condolences and support following the 15 March terrorist attack in Christchurch.

Ms Ardern said she was very pleased to be making her first official trip to China as Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern at an official function in China.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received a military honour guard with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

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The new embassy. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

She had been looking forward to attending the Boao Forum and visiting Shanghai, but was unable due to the Christchurch terror attack, she said.

"I did though want to visit Beijing at this time to underline the importance that we place on our relationship with China," she said.

"It is one of our most important and far reaching relationships, a point I have made in my public speeches over the past year."

Ms Ardern said the New Zealand Labour Party was "really proud" of its "record of engagement" with China.

She noted former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark had negotiated and signed a free trade deal in 2008 and former Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk had established diplomatic relations with China in 1972.

Ms Ardern said she was "particularly invested" in the comprehensive strategic partnership agreed with former National Prime Minister John Key in 2014.

"We are committed to advancing our ties. We already enjoy a relationship with an impressive and innovative history and a very, very promising future".

'We welcome those who choose to come to our shores' - PM

Ms Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the Christchurch shootings while formally opening New Zealand's embassy in Beijing.

Speaking at a plaque unveiling at NZ's embassy, Ms Ardern referred to the solidarity displayed by New Zealanders after the terror attack.

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Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

"We are a people who have not experienced that kind of violence in that kind of way on our shores before," she said.

"That did not change the values that we hold as a nation... we are a country of multiple ethnicities, multiple religions and faiths, different creeds.

"We are open, inclusive... we welcome those who choose to come to our shores".

Those values were held dear in embassies and commissions around the world including in China, Ms Ardern said.

"You have one of the most significant footprints that we have globally and I think that speaks to... the growing importance of our relationship with China."

'Explaining the process' behind Huawei decision

She said she intended to clear up what she calls "misreporting" about Huawei when she meets with China's leaders.

The GCSB has rejected Spark's initial 5G plans involving Huawei, citing security concerns.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Ms Ardern said she expected the matter to be raised during her meetings.

She planned to "explain the process" behind the Huawei decision and to clarify the government had no "direct involvement" with the decision, she said.

"The GCSB manages that regulatory process... it's there to support and strengthen New Zealand's national security interests and it sits separate of us," she said.

"I have seen reporting that Huawei is banned. That's just not true. Obviously we have Huawei products in New Zealand.

"It will be helpful for me to explain the process and the fact there has been some misreporting around the way it works."

New Zealand had a "very different" framework from any of its Five Eyes partners and had not been lobbied by any of them, she said.

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Jacinda Ardern arrives for the opening of New Zealand's new embassy in Beijing. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

"New Zealand makes its decision independently... I've not been directly approached or lobbied by anyone, but even if we were, it would make no difference to our independent process".

PM Jacinda Ardern is welcomed before an official engagement during her China visit.

PM Jacinda Ardern is welcomed before an official engagement during her China visit. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Ms Ardern said she also expected to discuss a potential upgrade to the two countries' Free Trade Agreement, as well as broader economic relations, cyber-security, and human rights issues.

"The visit itself is incredibly important to us ... the chance to come here and further that relationship is really key."

The embassy was first established in the 1980s shortly after China and New Zealand developed diplomatic relations.

Embassy staff have been in temporary quarters till last June while the brand new building and residence were being built.