PM Speech to China Business Summit

Prime Minister

Tēnā koutou katoa

Tuia ngā waka, Tuia ngā wawata, Tuia ngā hou-kura

Let us bind our connection, let us bind our vision, let us bind our shared aspiration for peace and prosperity.

This year marks a significant milestone in the New Zealand – China relationship.  

Fifty years ago – 1972 – was a prominent year in global affairs. Richard Nixon became the first US President to visit Beijing, reopening diplomatic engagement with the United States. Later that same year, the New Zealand and Chinese permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York put pen to paper, formally establishing the diplomatic relationship between our two countries.

A few months after this, New Zealand’s Overseas Trade Minister, Joe Walding, made the first visit to China by a New Zealand Minister since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Neither he nor any of his accompanying delegation members had visited China before. They had a broad remit, including trade opportunities, scientific, cultural, and sporting exchanges.

Since those early days, our relationship has continued to grow and develop. This year’s marking of the 50th anniversary is centred around people, planet, and prosperity.

Reflecting on these themes, I am reminded of some of the earliest connections between our people which extend much earlier than 1972. Earlier even than Rewi Alley’s arrival in China in 1927. 

For example Appo Hocton, commonly understood to be the first Chinese immigrant to New Zealand, who settled in Nelson in 1849. Appo became a respected businessman who built up from scratch an almost 500 acre sheep and cattle farm near Motueka. Today, there are thought to be more than 1600 descendants of Appo Hocton living throughout New Zealand.

Or Chew Chong. Originally from Guangzhou, he emigrated to Taranaki in 1867 and became an innovator and leader in the dairy sector, gaining widespread recognition for his production of high quality export-grade butter. And the prominence of this region lives on. Some of you here might know that Eltham, in Taranaki, is the source of Kapiti Cheese and is home to one of Fonterra’s oldest dairy sites.

Chinese New Zealanders now make up almost 5 percent of our population – many of whom can trace their New Zealand family history back many generations. In particular I would like to acknowledge the NZ Chinese Association and their role in preserving the culture and connections of our Chinese diaspora.

In the three years immediately following our first diplomatic connections, bilateral trade increased to $38 million. Fast forward 50 years and that figure is now closer to $38 billion.

Economic connections between our two countries were further strengthened with the entry into force earlier this year of both the bilateral FTA upgrade, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic partnership, with two-way trade between China and New Zealand now worth nearly $38 billion.

The significance of this progress is notable for occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of you in this room led the way in ensuring that business and other connections remained in good shape throughout. 

Despite the challenges, Air New Zealand, China Southern, and China Eastern have continued direct flights. Sustaining air connections helped secure the exchange of critical airfreight throughout the pandemic. For New Zealand, it has meant a steady in-flow of critical COVID-19 goods including personal protective equipment, and more recently Rapid Antigen Tests – of which China is New Zealand’s largest supplier (I suspect many of you in the audience are intimately familiar with them!). 

The growth of e-commerce has been another success story emerging out of the last two years. Over half of China’s population purchase their goods online. The sheer scale of China’s digital economy continues to offer significant opportunities for New Zealand exporters, including our small and medium enterprises.

Over 40 companies from New Zealand’s wine sector are building their brands and selling on China’s leading e-commerce platforms. Our produce exporters are also active in digital marketing and e-commerce in the China market. Companies such as Zespri, Mr Apple, Rockit, and Turners and Growers, alongside many others, all have flagship e-commerce stores.

And the last couple of years have reminded us that many different things can disrupt trade and supply chains, in particular for a country like New Zealand, at the end of a long, skinny logistics pipeline. I’m pleased that also during this period, New Zealand has recently concluded new FTAs with the UK and EU further broadening options for our exporters and importers.

And we’ve stayed in touch wherever possible.

Many of you will be familiar with the China International Import Expo, in which New Zealand participated both in 2020 and 2021. This included significant representation from New Zealand companies housed in New Zealand government-supported pavilions.

New Zealand Weeks have taken place in China, despite the closed borders, some virtually and some supported by New Zealand officials and businesses based in China. Entities such as the NZ China Council – celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – and China Development Institute have continued virtual dialogues.

Sister city visits have continued virtually. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of our oldest sister city relationship between Hastings and Guilin. 2022 also marks the 10 year anniversary of the sister city relationship between Auckland and Ningbo – and 35 years in the Wellington-Xiamen relationship. There are now more than 25 sister-city relationships between us.

Offshore learning opportunities during the pandemic have been instrumental in supporting our education connections. And just last week our Education Minister Chris Hipkins took part virtually in a renewal of the agreement between all eight New Zealand universities and Peking University strengthen and build upon the already successful New Zealand Centre at the University – a great example of quality engagement. 

So there has been positive progress despite many disruptions.

But today is about looking forward.

It was an enormous moment yesterday when the final stage of New Zealand’s border fully reopening to the world was completed. It’s been a staged and cautious process on our part since February as we, alongside the rest of the world, continue to manage a very live global pandemic, while keeping our people safe.

But keeping people safe extends to incomes and wellbeing too. And as a value added exporting country which depends on consumers around the world choosing our products to ensure our economic security, our key message is that we are open for business.

New Zealanders are hosts. Manaakitanga streams through our veins, and we open our arms to tourists and students including from China – which prior to 2020 was New Zealand’s largest source of international students and second largest source of tourists. To those looking to make the journey, haere mai, we welcome you.

But as we look to manage the challenges of today, and recover from them, we must do so with a firm focus on climate change.

When I visited China in 2019, Premier Li and I agreed a joint statement in climate change cooperation. A stable climate is a stable future, and we don’t have to look to the next 100 years to document that, we can look around ourselves right now. Increasing weather events affecting food production the world over. Pacific islands already facing the rehoming of ancestral remains.

This is why climate change is the subject of regular Ministerial Dialogues between our countries. A stable climate is crucial to the economic security of all nations.

I’ll repeat what I told the renowned Lowy Institute in Australia recently – climate change must be a foreign policy priority. My message to all who wish to extend support and influence in any way to any region outside their own, is to extend that support first and foremost to tackle the violence of climate change.

This is how we as an international community can make a lasting difference in bringing about the security of a stable planet.

A lesser known area of environmental cooperation for New Zealand and China is in the fascinating realm of migratory birds. We have worked together over many years in conservation efforts to protect birds such as godwits and red knots which migrate from New Zealand to the Arctic North each year, stopping along the coast of North China on the way.

I use this as an illustrative example. There are, and continue to be, opportunities where New Zealand and China should, and can, co-operate.

Our continued investment in areas of cooperation – both before and during the pandemic – also demonstrates the importance both sides place on the relationship in a world that has fast become much more complex.

Looking back over the 50 years, it is clear that China and New Zealand have both been major beneficiaries of relative peace, stability and prosperity in our region and globally. The rules, norms and institutions, such as the United Nations, that underlie that stability and prosperity remain indispensable. By facilitating global cooperation on issues that can only be solved collectively, international rules, norms and institutions are more important than ever. 

Wherever they may fail, our first port of call must always be to find ways to make them stronger. Because we, both New Zealand and China, have benefited from them.

China has witnessed remarkable development, as a result of reform and opening up to the global economy. At the same time, no single country has contributed more to the alleviation of poverty than China. According to the World Bank, close to 800 million have been lifted out of extreme poverty since China began to reopen to the world.

Like many others, New Zealand is a supporter of China’s integration into the global economy and trading system that helped China achieve this feat, including through China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 and our own early FTA negotiations. As I’ve said, China has benefited enormously from these processes, as has New Zealand.

This is a vivid example of how trade can support a country’s domestic objectives to lift the wellbeing of a country’s citizens, and it is why I have packed the last couple of months with several trade missions, and I’m proud we have secured four major free trade agreements in the past few years.

But if we look to the counterfactual, we see how much we have to lose should the international rules based system falter. 

And yet the international rules, norms and institutions that have benefited our countries are under threat.  As I said in Sydney last month – it’s grim out there. 

A clear-cut example of this is Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, which is an affront to us all. It is an example of a country resorting to power, rather than rules, in an effort to shape the international environment in its own favour. As history shows us repeatedly, when large countries disregard sovereignty and territorial integrity with a sense of impunity, it does not bode well particularly for small countries like New Zealand. 

And that’s why as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and in line with its commitment to the UN Charter, we continue to urge China to be clear that it does not support the Russian invasion, and have called on China to use its access and influence to help bring an end to the conflict.

The implications of the war are global, and are felt far from Europe, including here in the Indo-Pacific.  And as a nation of the region, we have a fundamental interest in its peace and stability. In response to increasing tensions or risks in the region – be they in the Pacific, the South China Sea, or the Taiwan Strait – New Zealand’s position remains consistent – we call for adherence to international rules and norms; for diplomacy, de-escalation and dialogue rather than threats, force and coercion.

More broadly, whether looking at the trading regime in the WTO, the law of the sea under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or the universal human rights protected by the United Nations – it is a contested and challenging landscape.

Indeed, there is little debate that the world is a more complex place to navigate. This is a point made as often by Leaders in Beijing as elsewhere. It has been a common theme of my discussions with counterparts around the world, not least in our own Pacific region.  There is a lot at stake and we all have a role to play.

China is the second largest global economy, and the world’s largest goods producer and exporter. As such China’s role in the region and the world has grown, and as such those views and actions naturally reverberate with a greater significance.

But even as China becomes more assertive in the pursuit of its interests, there are still shared interests on which we can and should cooperate.

And this brings me to speak more specifically of managing our evolving and multifaceted relationship with China. China is one of our most important and complex relationships.

We have a long history of engagement, and of beneficial interactions between our governments, our people, cultures and in commerce. New Zealand has been firm and consistent in our commitment to our one China policy, and more recently in the implementation of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

But we have also recognised that New Zealand and China each have our own distinct political systems, histories and cultures. And we each have our own world view shaped by these factors.

New Zealand’s approach has been consistent. We have over decades had a fiercely independent foreign policy driven by our assessment of our interests and values.

There are areas where both sides benefit, such as trade and agriculture.

There are also areas that matter deeply to New Zealand, and where China and New Zealand’s interests or world view differ.

In all of these areas we are willing to engage – consistently, predictably, and respectfully. But we will also advocate for approaches and outcomes that reflect New Zealand’s interests and values, and speak out on issues that do not.

New Zealanders – and an independent foreign policy – demand nothing less.

As I said from this platform last year – and I repeat today – our differences need not define us. But we cannot ignore them. This will mean continuing to speak out on some issues – sometimes with others and sometimes alone.

We have done this recently on issues in the Pacific.  We also have consistently expressed our concerns about economic coercion, human rights, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

Managing the differences in our relationship is not always going to be easy and there are no guarantees. But as a Government we continue to work hard – through dialogue and diplomacy.

We will never take our relationship for granted, but nor do we assume that it will not evolve.

As we mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, we look forward to the return of in-person ministerial visits.

On this a few plans are afoot. I know there have been indications our Foreign Ministers will exchange visits when conditions allow.     

When China’s COVID provisions make it possible, I hope to lead a business delegation to China to renew and refresh in-person connections.

I hope to build on my 2019 visit to Beijing – to seize new opportunities for dialogue on regional and global issues, to further our cooperation on significant challenges such as climate change, environmental sustainability and biodiversity, to continue to deepen our cultural and people exchanges and to support our businesses in charting the way ahead in our trade and economic relationship.

But for now, because I’d rather move to the Q&A with you all, I want to finally acknowledge that for New Zealand, 2022 is the first year in which New Zealand marked Matariki with a public holiday. The Matariki star cluster has a significance in the Chinese calendar as it does for Maori and us here in New Zealand too.

The Guangdong Astronomical Society and Auckland Stardome Observatory held a joint event to mark Matariki.

In the 50th year of diplomatic relations I thought this was a wonderful example of how our connections will continue to evolve – where we more fully embrace what makes us each unique, and find within that appreciation of difference, even more that connects us.