Wang Yi starts first trip to New Zealand, Australia in 7 years
Published: Mar 17, 2024 10:39 PM
Wang Yi Photo:

Wang Yi Photo:

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was set to kick off his first trip to New Zealand and Australia in seven years on Sunday, which is expected to solidify and promote healthy bilateral ties while managing differences and attempting to dispel noises from third parties.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that at the invitation of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand Winston Peters and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong, Wang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, is scheduled to pay an official visit to New Zealand and Australia from March 17 to 21.

Bloomberg revealed on Wednesday that Wang will arrive in Canberra on March 20 for talks with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in his first visit to the country since 2017.

At a time when Beijing is reviewing whether to scrap its wine tariffs, Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday the removal of Chinese tariffs on Australian wine will be on the agenda when he meets Wang next week in Canberra. 

In New Zealand, Wang will meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters in Wellington for a bilateral meeting and official dinner, according to Radio New Zealand. But no details on the specific date or the schedule was provided.

 "We look forward to re-engaging with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and discussing the full breadth of the bilateral relationship, which is one of New Zealand's most important and complex ties," Peters, also a deputy prime minister, said in a statement, the country's media outlet The Post reported on Thursday.

 "Trade between New Zealand and China, as well as strong people-to-people, cultural and business links, delivered significant benefits to both our countries."

New decade into deeper cooperation 

As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the China-New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership, Peters noted that "it is timely to discuss how New Zealand and China can best work together over the next decade, while building a strong understanding of our respective perspectives."

New Zealand's relationship with China - its largest trading partner - has been at the forefront of China's relationships with Western developed countries, Chinese observers commented.

Over the past decade, China and New Zealand have demonstrated the significance of their comprehensive strategic partnership, said Chen Hong, director of the New Zealand Studies Centre at East China Normal University. 

Over the past 10 years, significant achievements have been made in economic and trade cooperation between the two countries, as well as in regional trade liberalization and integration, Yu Lei, professor at Shandong University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

During Wang's visit, it is expected that the two sides will achieve certain results in the fields of economic and trade cooperation, enhancing tourism cooperation between the two countries, and regional cooperation, Yu predicted.

Chen told the Global Times on Sunday that the two countries are anticipated to strengthen cooperation and communication in maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region, addressing climate change, and jointly promoting stable development of the South Pacific region.

As the two countries will welcome their next decade of comprehensive strategic partnership, Chinese observers also warned some new challenges for the bilateral ties may emerge under the new New Zealand coalition government which took office on November 27, 2023.

For the first time in New Zealand's political history, a tripartite administration took governance responsibilities of the country. But the coalition government has made few substantive public remarks about the New Zealand-China relationship since it came to power, The Post reported. 

Therefore, the meeting between Wang and Peters this time is highly expected as the latter said the pair would "discuss regional and global issues, including the importance of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region."

Under the new coalition government in New Zealand, Wang's visit is crucial as it can help maintain the positive development of bilateral ties, Chen said.

Considering the two countries face some differences on certain issues, Wang's visit can help effectively address these differences and manage the divergent views between the two sides in order to promote the healthy and stable development of bilateral relations, Chen pointed out.

Noises from third parties

There is another factor that could affect Beijing-Wellington ties - coercion from Washington and its allies.

Yu says New Zealand's domestic politics and political parties have significant ties with the US and Australia, making them susceptible to influence.

The Post pointed out that the New Zealand government has joined other countries in the US-led clique in becoming more outspoken about China-related issues including those on Xinjiang and Hong Kong as well as the Taiwan question and South China Sea disputes.

Also, The Guardian, in early February, reported that New Zealand had stepped up its interest in joining the non-nuclear pillar of AUKUS security partnership, citing concerns amid China's growing presence in the Pacific.

Peters and the Defense Minister Judith Collins travelled to Melbourne to meet with their Australian counterparts Penny Wong and Richard Marles for the inaugural "2+2" Australia and New Zealand foreign and defense ministers' meeting in early February. In a joint press conference, Marles announced that an Australian delegation would travel to New Zealand "very shortly" to brief officials on the second pillar of the AUKUS pact - a security partnership between Australia, the UK, and the US.

The second pillar of AUKUS covers the sharing of advanced military technologies, including quantum computing and artificial intelligence. New Zealand has not been offered the chance to join pillar one which is centered on the Australian navy receiving nuclear-powered submarines, media reported.

As a neighbor of Australia and an important member of the Five Eyes alliance, New Zealand had previously expressed concern over AUKUS especially for the risk of nuclear war, Chen said.

He noted that such differing voices led the US to hope to include New Zealand in AUKUS to reduce dissent voices.

But there has been a backlash against joining AUKUS within New Zealand, with many calling on the government to carefully consider the consequences and learn from Australia's previous experience of antagonizing China which led to harming its own national interests, the expert said.

"The US and its allies have been exerting pressure on New Zealand on China-related issues and trying to affect its relations with China, Wellington needs to properly manage the relationship between New Zealand and the US and that between New Zealand and its largest trading partner China," Chen said.