Fiftieth Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations With China

Foreign Affairs

Chinese Embassy Reception

Te Papa, Wellington


Tēnā koutou katoa, Da jia hao

Let me first acknowledge Ambassador Wang Xiaolong, thank you for the invitation this evening, it is a pleasure to be here.

I would also like to acknowledge current and former Parliamentary colleagues, as well as members of the diplomatic corps who are here today.

There are many other people present in the audience who have contributed greatly to our bilateral relationship, whether through local government, business or civil society organisations.

And of course to our esteemed performers, ngā mihi nui – congratulations on a successful concert this evening.

We come together today to celebrate fifty years since Aotearoa New Zealand and China established diplomatic relations.

Many countries, many cultures, many people celebrate a 50-year commemoration as a Golden Anniversary or a Golden Jubilee.

Tonight we have reached that special milestone, a Golden 50th anniversary.

It is an illustrious anniversary that is both notable; and a moment that can truly shine brightly in our shared history.

In those fifty years, both countries – with our distinct histories, cultures, and world views – have built the relationship we enjoy today.

We have chosen to mark the Anniversary year with three themes:

  • tangata/people,
  • aorangi/planet, and
  • tōnuitanga/prosperity.

These themes are woven through our shared history and achievements, and have helped maintain rich and vibrant connections.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata.

Our people connect us. The ties between the peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand and China date back over almost two centuries.

We know that China and Aotearoa New Zealand did not begin from a standing start when our diplomatic relationship was formalised in 1972.

We celebrate government to government relationships – because they speak for entire nations.

But we also remember those who went before, many years before.

I think of the humble individuals, like Appo Hocton, believed to be the first Chinese immigrant here.

As a young cabin boy on an English immigrant vessel he jumped ship in Nelson in 1842.

He encountered many challenges and setbacks but eventually became so well-respected as a member of the community that he was invited to join official civic celebrations to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

The gold rush brought large numbers of Chinese people here seeking fortune in the 1860s.

I look to some of our sister city relationships, such as the partnership between Dunedin and Shanghai, to see the legacy of the influence of early Chinese migrants on our regions.

The connections are visible too in Māori language newspapers like the Maori Messenger, Te Karere Maori, which were publishing reports of events and people in China, in te reo, for curious readers in the 1850s.

There are also the pioneering New Zealanders such as Rewi Alley who travelled to China 95 years ago. He dedicated a lifetime to improving the training and conditions for ordinary workers.

The photographer Brian Brake was one of only a small number of ‘western’ photographers working in China in the 1950s. His portraits were shared by international magazines with audiences in the millions.

Ten years ago, the fortieth anniversary of diplomatic relations saw his work return to China for a special exhibition in Beijing.

The author Robin Hyde, who met Alley in Shanghai in the 1930s, wrote some of her most celebrated poems while in China.

Her writing also celebrated the migration of the godwits.

Known by Maori as the kuaka, and in China as Ban Wai Cheng-Yu, they arrive annually in Aotearoa, as they do at the coastal wetlands near the Yellow Sea in north-eastern China, on their return journey to the Arctic.

Ancestors of both of our countries tracked these migration patterns centuries ago, now it is done by satellites and social media.

These remarkable birds are now our shared responsibility.

Like many issues, it is essential that New Zealand continues to work with China to protect these birds.

As a former Ambassador Wang Lutong noted in 2015 “we help ourselves by helping the godwits.”

These are some of the ‘golden’ histories to be found all around us, and we also keep making new histories.

Generations of families and cultural connections have bridged the two countries.

Today, almost 5% of New Zealand’s population identify as having Chinese ancestry.

Over the past 50 years, the people of New Zealand and China have connected in sports, culture, and education.

We have high hopes for the time when these people-to-people exchanges can fully resume, as they will gradually, now New Zealand’s border has fully reopened to China.

These reconnections are occurring at all levels.

The strength of our bilateral relationship was celebrated when our leaders, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and President Xi Jinping, met face to face for the first time since 2019 in the margins of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Summit earlier this month.

Our second theme, He Aorangi, underlines our common commitment to protect the planet.

This also connects us.

We have shared interests in working together to protect the environment and mitigate the existential threat of climate change.

We see real value in our regular ministerial dialogues. We are also excited about pursuing joint environmental intiatives, including on migratory shorebirds and agricultural emissions.

He Tōnuitanga is our third theme.

We are connected in our aim to create prosperity for our people.

Our trade and economic relationship brings mutual benefits and makes a significant contribution to the well-being of our people.

China has been New Zealand’s largest trading partner since 2017 and our trading relationship has proved to be resilient despite COVID challenges.

Our two-way trade totalled over $38 billion in the year to June 2022, a remarkable increase from less than $2 million in 1972.

We can also celebrate the new FTA Upgrade, which was finalised and brought into force this year, despite the limitations on travel.

The Upgrade modernises our existing free trade agreement. It includes new chapters on e-commerce and on trade and environment, reflecting developments in our trading relationship over the last few years.

Relationships are not static.

The New Zealand-China relationship has evolved significantly over the past half century, and no doubt will continue to do so.

There are – and will be - things on which we do not agree. Managing those differences will not always be easy but as a Government we will continue to work hard to address these – consistently and predictably.

Eighteen months ago I spoke publicly of the metaphor of the Dragon and the Taniwha, as symbols of the strength of our particular customs, traditions and values.

The Taniwha, like the Dragon, has the ability to understand the essence of its environment and changing conditions – as well as the ability to adapt and survive.

After all as custodians and kaitiaki, Taniwha are intrinsically linked to the wellbeing and resilience of people, the environment and the prosperity from which all things flourish.

The willingness of the Dragon and the Taniwha to engage and have regard for one another is not simply a matter of economic convenience, competition or prowess.

That illustrates the perspective we bring to the future relationship with China.

It will be a relationship where New Zealand is respectful, predictable and consistent.

Many of you will have your own unique perspective and role in the relationship between Aotearoa and China.

I hope this 50th anniversary event provides an opportunity to celebrate those ties as we look ahead into the future.

Thank you, xie xie