The Prime Minister is en route to Beijing, heading there to talk up the positives of our relationship while tactically avoiding too much of the negative.
She may need to – Newshub can reveal there’s been a sharp decline in official trips to China since her Government took power.
Jacinda Ardern’s trip to Beijing has been a long time coming. Months of delays have meant months of speculation the relationship had gone awry.
“It’s certainly an important milestone, an important visit,” she told Newshub.
The Government’s defence policy specifically called out the rising threat posed by China, and New Zealand spies halted Chinese communications giant Huawei from installing its 5G network last year.
“There have been complexities, and I would include Huawei in that, but that shouldn’t change our relationship because it is a mature and longstanding one,” Ardern said.
But Newshub can reveal the extent to which that relationship has slowed since the Labour-New Zealand First Government came to power.
Details obtained under the Official Information Act show that in the year and a bit after the 2014 election, 15 National Ministers visited China. After the 2017 election, this Government has only managed six ministerial trips – less than half that of the Nats.
Ardern disagreed that suggests National had a stringer relationship with China.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s necessarily indicative.”
China expert and academic Anne-Marie Brady has written extensively about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference in New Zealand politics.
She said Ardern’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping will focus on the positives.
“The priority will be to look for common points, but also to reassure on some issues where there will be concerns from China.”
Those issues include Huawei, defence and the Parliament inquiry into foreign interference that Brady was initially blocked from. China will want reassurance it’s not the target of a witch hunt.
“That it’s not specific to any one country,” Brady said. “It’s possible the Government will be seeking to reassure China on that point.”
She said the simple fact of the trip bodes well for the New Zealand/China relationship.
“You don’t get an invitation if the relationship is truly strained.”
The Prime Minister is basically travelling to China for lunch. The trip was slashed right back from more than a week to just a day after the Christchurch attack, but the fact Ardern’s going at all speaks volumes about how seriously New Zealand treats its relationship with China – and the need to quell speculation the relationship was on the rocks.