How to sort out our differences with China – sometimes it’s best done in private, says the PM

Neither dragons nor taniwha were mentioned when the PM addressed the China Business Summit.  Nor did we learn anything fresh about New Zealand’s foreign and trade policy.

Jacinda Ardern kicked off by setting out three key messages.

  • China’s geostrategic relevance is a reality that no country can ignore;
  • New Zealand and China have very different perspectives on some issues, and managing those differences effectively calls for hard work; and
  • Opportunities continue for New Zealand and China to work together, particularly in international trade, environment and climate change, and in their response to the global pandemic.

She acknowledged that New Zealand’s relationship with China is one of our most significant.

Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership continues to provide a strong foundation for the relationship.  We remain committed to our one China policy.

Trade in goods between the two countries has remained resilient despite the challenges of COVID.  Some of our goods exports to China declined in the early months of the pandemic last year, but our overall exports have remained strong and some NZ exports to China – for example, dairy, honey and kiwifruit – increased in value in 2020 on the previous year.

Two-way trade flows now are well above $30 billion a year.

The government has welcomed the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, with China’s ratification last month.  NZ is well-advanced in its domestic ratification process and looks forward to the early entry into force of both of these important agreements.

Beyond this, the government is striving to increase NZ’s long-term resilience and gain better access for New Zealand companies to a diverse range of markets and economic opportunities.

Ardern said that, given their different histories, worldviews and political and legal systems, NZ and China will take different perspectives on some important issues. 

“We will continue to work through these in a consistent manner, as we have always done.

“But as Minister Mahuta said last month, we need to acknowledge that there are some things on which China and New Zealand do not, cannot, and will not agree.

“This need not derail our relationship, it is simply a reality.”

The PM described NZ as an open, pluralistic, democracy, with a focus on transparency and the rule of law.  

“We take a principles-based approach to our foreign policy, and we make our decisions independently, informed by our own assessment of New Zealand’s interests and values.

“We have shown this quite clearly over the past year by deliberately choosing when we make public statements on issues of concern, and with whom.”

In the past year, Ardern said, the government had raised some issues with China in private.

But it made public statements, too, with a significant number of other countries in multilateral bodies such as the Human Rights Council. 

At other times is has partnered with Australia, the UK, the US and other countries that share our views and values. 

“And sometimes we spoke out alone.”

NZ commented publicly about grave concerns regarding the human rights situation of Uyhgurs in Xinjiang and Ardern said she raised these concerns with senior Chinese leaders several times, including with the Guandong Party Secretary in September 2018 and with China’s leaders when she visited in 2019. 

The government has also spoken out “about continued negative developments with regard to the rights, freedoms and autonomy of the people of Hong Kong”.

Negative developments?

That’s gritty language.    

Ardern then said that as China’s role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – are becoming harder to reconcile.

“This is a challenge that we, and many other countries across the Indo Pacific region, but also in Europe and other regions, are also grappling with.”

The PM then dipped briefly into her Maori lexicon to spell out NZ’s aspiration for APEC in 2021 (none of it posing any obvious threat to anybody):

  • to Join Together, to reignite growth and plan for a long-lasting economic recovery;
  • to Work Together, for the collective good of the region;
  • and to Grow Together, to foster prosperity and well-being that is sustainable and inclusive.

Those aims (she said) were “inspired by the Māori proverb – Haumi-ē, Hui-ē, Taiki-ē”.

She did not provide a translation.  

Point of Order turned to the tearawhiti website for guidance

We were advised that even if we had no idea of what the rest of a speech in te reo was about, after hearing a few speeches we might start to recognise a common refrain at the end of the karakia that goes “haumi e, hui e, TAIKI E.”

“This is basically a ritual ending which is pretty impossible to translate meaningfully, but is a bit like everyone saying “Amen” together at the end of a prayer, but means something along the lines of “join, gather, unite”. Its just something you say.”

You could say that about the PM’s speech.  It was just something she said.

But that is to ignore her affirmation that our our policy settings remain unchanged.  


Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, ata marie, tena koutou katoa, good morning. I am very happy to be here with you once again at my fourth China Business Summit.




2 thoughts on “How to sort out our differences with China – sometimes it’s best done in private, says the PM

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