New Zealand’s ties with China need a reset

By Chen Hong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/31 18:43:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



Since Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand's youngest female prime minister in October 2017, she has dealt with domestic and international issues with success and an admirable adroitness. However, her visit to China since her prime ministership has long been postponed until this week. 

China overtook Australia as New Zealand's biggest trade partner for goods and services in late 2017, and two-way trade volume reached $27 billion in 2018. The people-to-people relationship has reached a new pinnacle, with Chinese tourists ranking the Land of the Long White Cloud as one of their favorite holiday destinations. New Zealand's esteemed products have been well accepted in the Chinese market, and young Chinese students have been flocking to the island nation's prestigious universities.

Ardern's recent handling of the Christchurch terrorist attacks with enormous compassion and tenacity and her resolute opposition to racism and white supremacy at home and abroad is remarkable, in particular against the present background of a global resurgence of far-right sentiments.

After signing a cooperation agreement with China on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2017, New Zealand has recently indicated its readiness to proactively expand and extend its participation in trade and infrastructure projects under the BRI's auspices. 

The free trade agreement between the two countries is the highest-level agreement between China and a developed economy and is now in the process of being upgraded to cover more sectors including services, investment, e-commerce and a wider economy to bring more business opportunities and promote trade. Bilateral relations are bound to be enhanced and reinforced to the benefit of both countries.

As a weighty player in the South Pacific region, New Zealand adheres to its traditional security allegiance with the US and Australia. With the three-party alliance based on the ANZUS Treaty, its security and military attachments have never been challenged or contested by China. New Zealand's security concerns don't have to come at the expense of its cooperative ties with China in other fields.

However, we have from time to time witnessed in dismay New Zealand's unwarranted and irresponsible allegations against China, on issues such as China's aid and infrastructure projects in South Pacific countries and Chinese high-tech company Huawei's participation in the 5G network upgrade of Spark, New Zealand's major telecommunications provider.

In 2018, Ardern raised the issue of vocational education and training centers in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Activists and watchdog groups have called on her to raise the issue again during her China visit this time.

All such unjustified, provocative and belligerent remarks, finger-pointing and even actual acts are recognizable resonance of the inimical rhetoric made by those anti-China individuals and groups in the US, who have identified China as America's strategic rival, and have been forcing its allies to side with it to challenge and contain China's rise on political, economic, social and cultural fronts. 

On the other hand, in contrast to the strong-arm coercion by the US, there is in fact no pressure from the Chinese side at all to make Wellington choose between Beijing and Washington.

China's presence in the Pacific is neither against New Zealand's regional interest nor aims to edge the Kiwis out of the region. However, New Zealand's revised new Pacific policy, labeled the Pacific Reset, is seen as a collaborative effort in conjunction with Australia, the US and a number of other Western countries with the professed objective to defy, offset and frustrate Chinese aid and development programs in the Pacific. 

New Zealand's Defence Strategic Policy Statement, issued in 2018, singled out China's sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and outlined the threats that China poses to the international order.

While New Zealand itself is not a claimant country in the South China Sea, it has joined the cacophony with the US, Australia and some other Western allies to foment dissension and instigate confrontation in the region, much to the exasperation of China, which has in fact achieved significantly positive outcomes to attain peace and stability through proactive and constructive negotiations with other claimant countries.

"New Zealand places a high priority on our relationship with China," Ardern told reporters prior to her China visit. We look forward to her long overdue visit to China this week, which hopefully will get China-New Zealand relations back on the right track.

In Ardern's words, "China is an important regional and global actor, with whom we must work on challenges facing the global community and those critical to the security and prosperity of our region." We welcome her insightful observation, positive and constructive outlook and pragmatic approaches.

The author is a professor and director of Australian Studies Centre and New Zealand Studies Centre, East China Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: ASIAN REVIEW

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