30th Anniversary of China/New Zealand Relations

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Thirty years ago the Third Labour Government led by Rt Hon Norman Kirk established diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China.

Norman Kirk had the vision to see that New Zealand's economic and political future would be affected by the way in which our country interacted with Asia, and, in particular, by our relations with the world's most populous state. He took the step necessary to put New Zealand and China on a path that has brought benefit to us both. Today, when that relationship with Beijing holds such importance to New Zealand, it is difficult to comprehend why the normalisation took so long to happen.

We celebrate this evening thirty years of co-operation in the diplomatic, governmental, economic, cultural, scientific, and sporting areas.

We acknowledge those who have built on that vision of thirty years ago. New Zealand exporters now sell nearly twice as much to China each and every day of the year as we sold in a whole year in 1972. In terms of people to people contacts, some 120,000 Chinese and New Zealand citizens will travel between our two countries this year.

New Zealand has quickly become the country of choice for many thousands of young Chinese looking to broaden their education overseas. China's leaders have visited New Zealand regularly, and New Zealand Prime Ministers and Ministers have made Beijing a priority destination as they pursue New Zealand's interests internationally.

On this anniversary we acknowledge all those who laid the foundations of this relationship. First, I acknowledge the contribution of John Scott who is here this evening. As New Zealand's Ambassador in New York in December 1972, he negotiated and signed the communiqué that established our diplomatic relations. Then there was the late Joe Walding, who was the first New Zealand minister to make an official visit to the People’s Republic. He was accompanied on that mission in early 1973 by Bryce Harland, who became our first Ambassador to China; by Terence O'Brien; and by Derek Round, whose reports of that visit gave New Zealanders new insights into China. I welcome all three here this evening.

I also want to extend a special welcome to the many members of New Zealand's Chinese community for whom this anniversary has a special importance. For them Norman Kirk's diplomatic moves in December 1972 freed up contact with the land of their ancestors.

Few people in 1972 could have imagined the breadth, the pace, and the diversity with which New Zealand's relationship with China would develop. It would be a brave person who predicted how the relationship would look in another thirty years, but we can be certain that the importance of China to New Zealand will not diminish in that time.

The recent 16th Party Congress in Beijing set for China a goal that is astounding in its ambition; to quadruple the size of the Chinese economy by the year 2020. The economic path on which China has been embarked since Deng Xiaoping set the nation on the road to modernisation in 1978 ranks as one of the most important programmes of economic transformation in world history.
The next decades in China will be exciting to watch, and will be of the greatest importance to New Zealand. New Zealand's future prosperity and the world’s prosperity is linked to China's growth and development.

As we celebrate the past three decades of the modern China - New Zealand relationship, we set high ambitions for the years ahead. We do so believing that China's path of modernisation will continue and that there will be many opportunities for New Zealanders to be part of that. The businesses and people of China will also play a role in the growth and development of New Zealand.

These thirty years have taught us much, here in Wellington, in Beijing, and in the organisations which make up the fabric of multilateral diplomacy. We know that the governments and the people of China and New Zealand are able to work together as friends, with our areas of common interest and ambition hugely outweighing those areas on which we disagree.

Your Excellency we look forward to continuing to develop strong relations with your country in the year ahead.