50th Anniversary of New Zealand China Diplomatic Relations

Prime Minister

Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tatou katoa. Da jia hao.

It is my pleasure to be here with you all today.

Please allow me first to acknowledge His Excellency Ambassador Wang, and ministerial and parliamentary colleagues.

As I look around the room, I can see we are fortunate to have in attendance people that have made enormous and lasting contributions to the relationship between New Zealand and China over many years. 

We are here today as a partnership between our Government, the China Council and the New Zealand China Trade Association to mark the 50th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between our two countries.

Please allow me to specifically acknowledge John McKinnon, chair of the New Zealand China Council, and Martin Thomson, chair of the New Zealand China Trade Association. Thank you both for your ongoing work in support of this important relationship. 

I spoke with some of you in the room in some detail about the history and evolution of the New Zealand China relationship earlier this year, at the China Business Summit, and those remarks still stand. So I do not propose to go into detail again here.

Rather I thought I would touch on the three themes that were chosen by New Zealand to mark our anniversary: tangata/people, aorangi/planet and tōnuitanga/prosperity.

We start with tangata/people, not only because it is “the most important thing in the world”, it is also the foundation of our relationship. And while we are here to celebrate the 50th anniversary, our people connections extend well beyond that – to the arrival in New Zealand of the first Chinese migrants in the 19th century.

While much has happened since, I would like to think that those first migrants would be proud of the way that New Zealand society today is greatly enriched by our diverse New Zealand Chinese communities.

And I would like to acknowledge members of that community who are here with us, today.

I have been pleased to see ‘environment’ and ‘Aorangi - Planet’ - highlighted during this 50th anniversary year. Amongst other activities, our climate change Ministers recently held their annual dialogue, and we now have an environment chapter in our upgraded Free Trade Agreement.

As our Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has highlighted recently, the flight of migratory shorebirds between Aotearoa New Zealand and China is a fitting example of our connections. According to Māori legend, one of those species – the Bar-tailed Godwit or Kūaka – played an important role in guiding early waka to our shores.

This year New Zealand and China held an inaugural dialogue on how to protect these taonga, as they undertake their remarkable journey between New Zealand and China on their way to the Arctic north, and back again.

It reminds us all that we are not here to serve only ourselves – because we will always be linked by others who need us too, who used our lands long before we did, and who will use our lands long after we depart. As kaitiaki – protectors and guardians – collaboration and cooperation remains essential.

You all know that the relationship with China makes an important contribution to New Zealand’s tōnuitanga, or prosperity – our third theme for this year.

Our trade and economic links have proven resilient, despite the challenges of Covid. Our two-way trade totalled over $38 billion in the year to June 2022. We saw the fruits of this in the Upgrade of our Free Trade Agreement, which was finalised and brought into force this year.

My meeting with President Xi Jinping last month helped reinforce to me yet again the real value of in person engagement. This year has seen good Ministerial engagement between New Zealand and China – be it face to face or virtual – in the areas of foreign affairs, trade, education and science, amongst others.

I do hope to return to China in person when the settings allow, and I discussed with the President our ambition of taking a trade mission into China early next year – a plan that was welcomed by the President.

As I have said before, our relationship with China is complex, it is evolving. Of course, along with our long history of engagement and cooperation, we continue to recognise that there are areas where China and New Zealand do not agree. Where our interests or world view differ.

On those areas we are willing to engage – but we will also always advocate for New Zealand’s interests and values, and speak out when we need to. We do this predictably, consistently and respectfully.

Around this room are many of the esteemed businesspeople, academics, public servants, artists, and mana whenua who have dedicated time to building relationships across our borders. We celebrate today each of these relationships, which add to our collective resilience, the wellbeing of our planet, and the prosperity of our people.

A 50 year relationship is a significant achievement to be celebrated. Today, let’s celebrate this important anniversary across our two nations.  May our future be one of continued good fortune, the safe keeping of our people, our planet and our prosperity.

Thank you, xie xie