New Zealand PM Ardern's China visit to help promote bilateral partnership

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the media during a press conference at the Justice Precinct in Christchurch, on March 28, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (XINHUA, DPA) - Ms Jacinda Ardern will arrive in Beijing on Sunday (March 31) for her first China trip since becoming New Zealand's prime minister. Her visit is expected to inject new impetus into the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, and bring tangible benefits to the peoples of the two countries.

Ms Ardern will meet President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang amid growing concerns about tensions between New Zealand and China.

New Zealand is still deciding whether to allow telecom operator Spark to work with China's Huawei for its 5G update, after the country's security bureau raised national security concerns in November.

New Zealand is an important partner of China in the Asia-Pacific region. Since the two countries established diplomatic relations 47 years ago, bilateral ties have made remarkable progress, creating many firsts, including New Zealand being the first developed country to recognise China as a market economy in 2004, and to sign, and launch negotiations to upgrade, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China.

Last year, two-way trade reached US$16.86 billion (S$22.85 billion), a 14 per cent increase on a year-on-year basis.

As a result of such robust trade, more and more made-in-China electronics and textiles are available in New Zealand, while lamb and a wide range of dairy products like milk powder are becoming increasingly popular among Chinese consumers.

"This is an important visit," Ms Ardern said as she announced the trip. "New Zealand places a high priority on our relationship with China. I do look forward to our ongoing engagement."

For New Zealand, a closer partnership with China is beneficial. China is now New Zealand's largest trading partner, largest origin country of foreign students, and second largest one of foreign tourists. All these may harbour huge potential for New Zealand's businesses.

To fully tap this potential, New Zealand's prime minister is expected to focus on upgrading the decade-old FTA and boost cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) during her visit.

The BRI is another area where China and New Zealand can step up their mutually beneficial cooperation.

New Zealand is the first developed Western economy to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the BRI with Beijing. Also, following Ms Ardern's visit, New Zealand Trade Minister David Parker will be leading a business delegation for the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing next month.

New Zealand's serious interest in working with China on promoting BRI cooperation originates from its rich experience in trade facilitation and services. Within the BRI framework, China and New Zealand can join forces in pushing forward global trading infrastructure and regional integration to help deliver a faster flow of goods, services, personnel and capital in the region and beyond.

In addition to that, China and New Zealand, two key economic players in the Asia Pacific, have a common stake in maintaining a rules-based multilateral trading system against a rising tide of protectionism and isolationism. The two sides need to enhance their coordination in this regard and jointly safeguard the existing international order.

As two countries with different historical and cultural backgrounds and social systems, it is normal for them to have different opinions on certain topics.

However, the past almost five decades of China-New Zealand bilateral relations have shown that as long as they can join forces for mutual benefits on the basis of mutual respect and equality, their partnership will keep on growing.

It is hoped that the two sides will take Ms Ardern's visit as an opportunity to make full use of the potential of bilateral cooperation so as to write a new chapter in the China-New Zealand partnership.

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