Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s mission to Beijing is crucial for the relationship between the two countries, not just because it could give a vital nudge to the negotiation of a revamped free trade agreement.
But it will offer an insight into whether the global halo effect on Ardern as a consequence of her actions in the wake of the appalling Christchurch massacre translates into a solid political influence.
Even though she has had to pare back the mission, eliminating visits to two other Chinese cities, she is still due to meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, (and she will open the new complex housing the NZ embassy).
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she is travelling to China next week to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, and to open the New Zealand embassy.
The visit has been planned for months but appeared to be put on hold after several kinks had appeared in the bilateral relationship. Observers opined that NZ had fallen back in the queue.
Whether the sudden declaration that the mission would go ahead, even in a truncated form, is due to that halo effect will only be confirmed if in fact there is action on the issues which matter most to NZ.
The signs are propitious. And from China’s point of view it could be useful to play up the significance of a major advance in the free trade pact at a time when that country is engaged in a so-called “trade war” with the US.
Negotiations over the revision of the free trade agreement (the first China signed with another country) have dragged on. Meanwhile Australia has gained advantages over NZ exporters on several key products which need to be equalised, if not tilted in NZ’s favour.
And issues which have created friction such as the decision from New Zealand’s GCSB to block Chinese telco Huawei from building a 5G network in NZ – due, in part, to concerns over spying and the company’s proximity to China’s ruling communist party – have to be ironed out.
Ardern said it was an important visit.
“NZ places a high priority on its relationship with China.Our businesses value the relationships they have and I do look forward to our ongoing engagement.”
“I expect our discussions will include a broad range of bilateral, regional and international issues of common interest, including on upgrading our free trade agreement, protecting and promoting our rules-based international trading system and combating climate change.Through the terrorist attack in Christchurch, we’ve been served with a tragic reminder that NZ is no more immune than other members of our global community, to problems and indeed divisions, facing humanity.
“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,” she said.
But the need to attend a national memorial service scheduled for Friday, and be back in Parliament by Tuesday to usher through quick law changes to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons, means Ardern only had time for 24 hours on the ground in Beijing.
Ardern said China had been “incredibly accommodating of those needs”.
She confirmed Trade Minister David Parker would be leading a business delegation to China next month, when he attended the Belt and Road Economic Forum.