Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations with China

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Foreign Affairs

Rt Hon Winston Peters

Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs

 Speech  (please check against delivery)


45th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations Symposium.

Tuesday 5 December 2017, 9:15am, Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University of Wellington.

Mr Xie Yuan, Vice President of Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries

 It is a pleasure to join you in celebrating the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China.

Of course, relations between our countries did not start with diplomats nor did they start only 45-years ago.

New Zealand and China’s relations started in the 1800s with ordinary people who took pioneering journeys. 

The first Chinese immigrant to New Zealand, Appo Hocton, arrived 175 years ago in 1842. He jumped ship in the port of Nelson and became a successful businessman and a naturalised New Zealander.

90 years ago, a young sheep farmer from Taranaki set off, in his own words, to ‘go and have a look at the Chinese revolution’. Rewi Alley stayed in China for the rest of his life, receiving honorary citizenship in 1982. 

Rewi Alley would probably never have imagined that the 120th anniversary of his birth would be commemorated by an event attended by New Zealand’s Governor General.  Or that China’s President Xi Jinping  would call Rewi Alley - “our friend”.

In addition to Rewi Alley, there were many other New Zealanders who contributed to the early personal connections between New Zealand and China, and advocated for political recognition. These included members of the New Zealand China Friendship Society founded in 1952 and New Zealand MPs who visited China in their private capacities in the 1950s and 1960s.

This engagement paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of New Zealand and China on 22 December 1972.

In announcing diplomatic relations, the New Zealand Prime Minister of the time [Rt Hon Norman Kirk] stated:

“China has now re-entered the mainstream of world affairs. It is playing an active part in the United Nations. In Asia and the Pacific its influence is great, and is bound to grow. It is logical and sensible for New Zealand to recognise the People’s Republic of China and enter into normal relations with it.”

On 27 March 1973, a New Zealand Ministerial delegation, led by Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon Joe Walding,  set foot on Chinese soil for the first time.

The day before, the first staff of the Chinese Embassy arrived in Wellington.

And on 16 May 1973, the first Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand, Pei Jianzhang presented his credentials.

The first New Zealand Ambassador to China, Bryce Harland, presented his credentials in Beijing on 20 September 1973.

Official relations began from a low base.

 The population of New Zealand was 2.97 million.  China’s was 865 million.

  • New Zealand’s total trade with China was just $1.7 million. 
  • New Zealand had no air links with China. The British enclave of Hong Kong was the entry point.

Forty-five years later, the situation couldn’t be more different.  

Today, the relationship between New Zealand and China is described as a comprehensive strategic partnership and there is plenty of evidence to support that.
Our record of trade and economic “firsts” is dramatic. 
New Zealand and China’s two-way trade now stands at NZ$24.4bn (year to June 2017).  China is New Zealand’s second largest trading partner and number one goods export market.
China is New Zealand’s second-largest source of tourists, and China is New Zealand’s fifth largest travel destination.  Those travellers are serviced by 36 regular flights between New Zealand and China each week with scope for this to expand to up to 80 direct flights per week during peak periods.
The year 2019 will be the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, providing an opportunity for further growth in the value of the tourism relationship.
Over 38,000 Chinese students study in New Zealand, and more New Zealand students than ever before are learning Chinese - approximately 40,000 in primary and secondary schools across New Zealand.
Our cities have formed strong and mutually beneficial relationships, which was celebrated and advanced at the 2nd New Zealand – China Mayoral Forum which is just wrapping up here in Wellington.  45 New Zealand cities now have formal Sister City partnerships with Chinese cities.
New Zealand’s diplomatic footprint in China has grown beyond a single embassy in Beijing to include consulates in three cities in mainland China – Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.  All together there are 10 New Zealand government agencies represented in China employing 430 staff.  The New Zealand government looks forward to opening a new, modern chancery in Beijing in 2018.
High-level contact between New Zealand and China is frequent.  Prime Minister Ardern met Premier Li at the recent East Asia Summit in the Philippines.  There have been visits to New Zealand by President Xi in 2014 and by Premier Li [Lee] in March 2017, and visits to China by the New Zealand Governor-General, Prime Minister and Speaker across 2015 and 2016.
We had an excellent meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month in Viet Nam, and look forward to taking up his kind invitation to visit China next year. 
During my political career I’ve experienced first-hand the growth of many institutional and business connections between China and New Zealand. As Foreign Minister I made several visits to China, including a 2007 visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Xinjiang.
It was while in Xinjiang, I visited Shihezi University. At the time it was endeavouring to become a leading research and teaching centre for sheep breeding in Western China, with the assistance of Massey Uiversity.  Since then a New Zealand – China International Sheep Research Centre has been inaugurated between Massey and Shihezi  University.
In 2014, as part of a Select Committee delegation, we visited Beijing, Xi’an and Kunming. We were hosted by New Zealander Lew Dagger who took us to visit the Yunnan Red Pear company in Kunming. It is a business that has grown out of a collaborative partnership between the New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research and the Chinese Association of Agricultural Sciences.
Of course, New Zealand and China have grown beyond the business and institutional contacts. We also cooperate on regional and multilateral issues.
The continued prosperity and security of the Asia-Pacific region is important to China and New Zealand.
New Zealand supports a stable, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific region in which free trade and connectivity can thrive.  We urge parties to resolve disputes in accordance with international law, on the basis of diplomacy and dialogue. 
New Zealand is participating in China’s regional initiatives including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative.
China and New Zealand are negotiating the upgrade of our Free Trade Agreement to modernise the Agreement, further reduce barriers impacting exports, and boost trade.  Completing a successful upgrade will also serve as a demonstration of our shared commitment to trade liberalisation.
China and New Zealand both have interests in the Pacific region.  We want to see real and lasting benefits for Pacific island countries.  In this connection, for example, New Zealand and China have partnered to support better water infrastructure in the Cook Islands.
China and New Zealand are committed to working together on climate change, and meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement. Our Government has stated its intention to place a high priority on climate change issues.
New Zealand and China do not always see eye to eye on every issue; we are different countries and New Zealanders are proudly independent.  However,  China and New Zealand have a close, constructive and increasingly mature relationship.  Where we do have different perspectives, we raise these with each other in ways that are cordial, constructive and clear.
New Zealand will continue to seek close cooperation with China, as both countries focus on sustainable economic development, and the well-being of our people.
As stated at the start of this  speech, the New Zealand China relationship started with ordinary people.  What gives the New Zealand government confidence in the future of the relationship are connections between our people.
There are many in the audience today who have contributed much to the connections, goodwill and understanding between our two countries.
This symposium provides a valuable opportunity to identify further ways to grow and advance the New Zealand-China relationship.  We wish you every success with your discussions today.
Thank you.