New Zealand prides itself on independent diplomacy, continues to extend hand of friendship to China
Published: Jun 15, 2024 05:39 PM
Editor's Note:

Chinese Premier Li Qiang paid a visit to New Zealand from June 13-15. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to New Zealand and the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and New Zealand. What experience can other developed countries draw from China-New Zealand cooperation? Chris Lipscombe (Lipscombe), president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society (NZCFS) shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zixuan, stressing that China is not a threat and New Zealand will continue to extend the hand of friendship to China.

Chris Lipscombe, president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society  Photo: NZCFS

Chris Lipscombe, president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society Photo: NZCFS

GT: What's the significance of Premier Li's visit for China-New Zealand relations? What is the most important reason for the warming of bilateral relations in recent years?

The significance of this visit is huge. It's the 10th anniversary of our comprehensive strategic partnership. In terms of the warming of our bilateral relationship, China and New Zealand are very strong trading partners. We deeply appreciate the opportunity for New Zealand businesses to enter into successful trade relationships with Chinese companies. We certainly hope that our Chinese partners feel the same way about engagement with us.

GT: Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that China-New Zealand relations have long been a "pacesetter" in China's relations with developed countries when he met with Prime Minister of New Zealand Chris Hipkins in Beijing in June last year. What experience can other developed countries draw from China-New Zealand cooperation?

One of the things that New Zealand has famously done is to step out when other countries seem to have been slow in response. I'm thinking right back to China's accession to the World Trade Organization, when New Zealand was the first Western country to welcome China into that group. And there have been many firsts which have been famously announced by a number of people. So I won't go through them in detail. But I think that courage to actually say "no" is what we believe. This is what we think will actually benefit New Zealand. And these are the steps that we're prepared to take without having to bend to the will of other countries. This is very important. New Zealand has prided itself on its independent foreign policy stance, and we will continue to do so.

GT: Premier Li called for upgrading China-New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership and announced that China will include New Zealand in the list of unilateral visa-free countries. What positive impacts will this have in promoting people-to-people exchanges between the two countries? 

There seems to be already a very positive response to the announcement of New Zealand's inclusion in the list of unilateral visa-free countries. So that's very exciting news. I know that there has been a trial with Hainan Province. The New Zealanders have had an opportunity to travel there with 30-day visa-free entry. The extension of this to the remainder of the country is tremendous. This will not only facilitate business interactions, but tourist interactions as well. It may even attract people who are looking to expand their knowledge of China and improve their understanding of the language. These are very exciting developments that open the door for different types of interaction.

GT: You once mentioned that "China is already the engine of Asia and increasingly, it is also the engine of the world. We're gonna rely on China's economic strength and resilience to be able to pull the Asia-Pacific region into an era of increased prosperity." However, some Western media outlets claim that China poses an increasingly serious threat to Pacific security. Why do you describe China as an "engine"? How do you see the voices that claim China as a "threat"?

The talk of decoupling or an increased focus on a nation's own concerns is a sort of growing mercantilism. It's very clear that there's increased militarization in the Pacific and an increased focus on security concerns by many countries. For New Zealand and for New Zealand's relationship with China, as far as I can see, it's all upside. New Zealand sends goods to China, and Chinese goods are imported back to New Zealand. That doesn't seem like threatening behavior. So we welcome further interactions with China and certainly at the people-to-people level and we will continue to extend the hand of friendship to China.

GT: What adverse implications could the recent escalation of tensions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits have on other Pacific countries, such as New Zealand? What role can China and New Zealand jointly play to ensure regional peace and stability?

Certainly, escalating or rising geopolitical tensions in the region are not comfortable for anybody in the position of a country like New Zealand. We rely on multilateral agreements, and we know that China is committed to actually following those directions and adhering to those rules. We would look forward to working with China in confirming those international rules and would welcome any initiative that brings all parties together to agree on a peaceful way forward. So we can actually coexist together in this region. I do think there are opportunities for China and New Zealand to play a constructive role together in the Pacific, one of those areas is climate change.

I think one of the dangers of an overdue focus on security concerns is that it actually takes attention away. But one of the most critical things facing our world right now is actually manageable effects of climate change. So we really should be refocusing our attention on addressing these concerns, specifically in the South Pacific. And I believe that other Pacific island countries would be ready to work together in that initiative.

GT: New Zealand is reported to be considering to join the Pillar Two of AUKUS pact. How will this affect the situation in the Pacific region?

As I've already mentioned, the rise of political tensions is not comfortable for New Zealand. These things are not positive for New Zealand. I'm not a representative of the New Zealand government. I can't talk about whether we should or should not be joining a particular initiative or whether we should be joining Pillar One or Pillar Two, or any of these kinds of disciplines. What I can say is that it's not in our interests to be actually positioning ourselves against China. We do not see China as a threat and look forward to increased trade, tourism and friendship between our two countries.

GT: As the president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society, which fields do you think China and New Zealand can further enhance bilateral relations?

Looking back in history, there have been many times when we have captured the world's attention with some of the initiatives that we explored together. For example, New Zealand presented a cloak to Chairman Mao Zedong in 1957, and China actually allowed seven crates of Chinese antiquities to be sent to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, which formed probably the greatest collection in Australasia. These grand gestures show the depth and importance of our relationship. Even though now we have a very broad relationship, perhaps it's time to identify some of these gestures and think about what we can actually do together again to capture the world's attention and focus on how rich and important our relationship is between our two countries.