25 Mar 2023

China's top diplomat: Confident about ties with New Zealand

9:04 am on 25 March 2023
Nanaia Mahuta

Nanaia Mahuta arrived in China on Wednesday for a four day trip. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

China's top diplomat is reported to have told Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta that China sees New Zealand as an important partner, and the two countries should upgrade their economic and trade co-operation.

Wang Yi said China and New Zealand had always respected and trusted each other, and bilateral ties had long been at the forefront of China's relations with developed Western countries, Wang told Mahuta, according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.

"China-New Zealand cooperation has great potential," Wang said.

Mahuta arrived in China on Wednesday for a four-day trip, the first by a New Zealand minister since 2019, with her trip seen as paving the way for a future visit by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

New Zealand and China's interactions have remained largely cordial, with the two sides upgrading their free trade pact last year. China remains New Zealand's largest trading partner.

But last year former prime minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was "gravely" concerned about the possible militarisation of the Pacific after the Solomon Islands formed a security pact with China.

The Solomon Islands and China have consistently denied that their security partnership would allow a naval base. This week, the Solomon Islands said it had awarded a deal to a Chinese state company to upgrade a port in Honiara.

Ahead of her visit, Mahuta she said would advocate "for approaches and outcomes that reflect New Zealand's interests and values, including on human rights."

"I also intend to raise New Zealand's concerns about key regional and global security challenges, including the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine."

Wang told Mahuta that China would continue to play a constructive role in promoting political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, according to the foreign ministry statement.

China has long refrained from condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow refers to its actions as a "special military operation".

- Reuters

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