Ahead of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’s near week-long China visit, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) touted New Zealand as an “example” for other Western nations.
Hipkins arrived in Beijing in the early hours on June 26, leading a 29-person trade delegation in the hopes of reigniting China-New Zealand trade opportunities, including in tourism and education, to pull New Zealand out of recession as soon as possible.
Before he touched down, the Global Times published an article praising New Zealand’s “stable” ties with China despite the changing geopolitical landscape in recent years. Western nations have been increasingly critical of Beijing’s ever-increasing economic and military aggression and human rights abuses.
It also suggested Western nations use New Zealand’s “proactive” diplomacy and policy towards Beijing as a “reference.”
The CCP’s beaming review of New Zealand comes after Hipkins disagreed with U.S. President Biden’s remarks where he called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “dictator.”
“No,” Hipkins previously told a reporter when asked if he agreed with Biden’s comments, adding that the “form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people.”
When asked whether he was aware that Beijing wanted countries like Australia and the United States to take a similar approach towards the CCP as New Zealand’s, Hipkins declined to answer.
“It’s not for me to comment on other country’s diplomatic relationships,” he told media in Beijing on June 26.
Meanwhile, in media across the ditch, The Australian reported that Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta had allegedly been “harangued for a whole hour” by her Chinese counterpart during her previous visit in March.
But Hipkins suggested it was simply a disagreement and denied that he was “playing anything down.”
“We had a conversation when she arrived back in New Zealand about the nature of the conversation,” he said. “As with many diplomatic relationships, there were areas of agreement and areas of disagreements.
“Her description of it to me was that it was a constructive meeting. Constructive meetings don’t always involve unanimous agreement.”
New Zealand Clutches to Chinese Economy
On the top of the agenda is enhancing New Zealand’s trade ties with China as the Kiwi economy is buckling under the pressure of high inflation and interest rates.
“Perhaps the most important [message] is that the New Zealand-China relationship is economically very important to New Zealand,” he said.
“We’ll also be aiming to continue to strengthen that government-to-government relationship so that where there are areas where we disagree that we have open dialogue about those, and we’re able to convey those on either side.”
Hipkins said the areas of disagreements include New Zealand’s long-standing position on human rights and opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As 2023 marks 50 years of official diplomatic relations, Hipkins said it was a relationship that New Zealand valued.
“It’s one that we value; it’s one that we put energy and effort into because we see it as mutually beneficial,” he said.
In 2022, New Zealand exports to China were valued at $21 billion $21 billion (US$13 billion), or one-quarter of all exports.
Hipkins said he wanted the trip to signal that New Zealand was “open for business.”
“We have a message as a country that we’re bringing here to China, and that is that New Zealand is open for business,” he said. “It’s a huge export market for us.”
“We want to see travel from China to New Zealand really ramping up again, whether that’s international students, whether that’s tourists, whether that’s business-to-business ties.”
Hipkins Criticised For Shadow Plane
Meanwhile, back at home, Hipkins has been criticised for taking two planes on his trip, with one acting as a backup in the case of a breakdown.
The prime minister said the second plane had not travelled all the way to Beijing and was instead sitting in Manila.
The prime minister’s aircraft, which is from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757, has a history of breaking down.
Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also had several trips plagued by her aircraft breaking down, including a visit to Antarctica in October 2022, the White House in May 2022, and Australia in 2019.
National Party Leader Christopher Luxon said criticised the move for its extra emissions when the country was aiming for Net Zero by 2050.
“If we’ve got a climate emergency, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a second 30-year-old 757 trailing the other one,” he told NewstalkZB.
ACT Party leader David Seymour said it was a source of “national embarrassment” that New Zealand’s defence force plans were so old the prime minister needed a spare.
“So much for a climate emergency. The amount of CO2 emitted by this extra plane would be the equivalent of someone driving a Ford Ranger 606 times the length of New Zealand,” he said.
“The problem is that the government is underinvesting in defence. At the moment, we’re lucky to be able to successfully get off the tarmac, let alone defend ourselves, our allies, and our values in today’s increasingly volatile strategic environment.”