New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has called “for deepening economic, trade and environmental cooperation with China” at yesterday’s 9th Annual China Business Summit in Auckland.
At the same time, the prime minister said, “In this increasingly complex global environment, our relationship with China will continue to require careful management.”
Last month Hipkins met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing as part of a visit designed to promote trade.
China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner by a significant margin.
Hipkins met Xi as he toured China with many New Zealand business leaders, aiming to promote export industries.
“The New Zealand export story to China is well-known,” Prime Minister Hipkins said.
“It’s a phenomenal success story propelled by our 2008 Free Trade Agreement that took two-way trade from USD 5.08 billion that year to more than USD 25.4 billion today.”
The prime minister noted that forestry was among New Zealand’s top three exports to China, along with dairy and meat, adding that China is its largest offshore market.
In early July, Wood Central reported that New Zealand’s export prices for lumber dropped by 21% for the year to June 2023 following a drop in construction activity in China.
Described by ASB Bank as a “timber tantrum”, China now makes up to 60% of New Zealand’s export trade in sawn wood.
“New Zealand looks to work together with China to tackle critical global issues such as climate change and environmental protection,” Prime Minister Hipkins said, adding that it is in New Zealand’s interests to do so.
He said China and New Zealand will have a range of dialogues, including on green finance and forestry and emissions trading schemes, as well as a regular ministerial dialogue.
In recent weeks the New Zealand government has been heavily scrutinised by the NZ forestry industry, leading to the CEO of the NZ Climate Forestry Association labelling Hipkins government ‘economic vandals.’
Hipkins 30-minute speech to the summit, his first China-themed event in New Zealand since taking office, thanked China for its leadership in presiding over adopting the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which sets new global goals and targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
The world is less secure and more complex than before
Despite the praise, Hipkins said the Pacific region is becoming “more contested, less predictable, and less secure” as China becomes more assertive.
Hipkins said it was important that New Zealand continues to engage with China to listen and to build dialogue.
“Our region is becoming more contested, less predictable, and less secure,” Prime Minister Hipkins.
“And that poses challenges for small countries like New Zealand that are reliant on the stability and predictability of international rules for our prosperity and security.
Wellington has historically taken a more conciliatory approach towards China than Australia or its other Five Eyes security partners, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
But in recent years, New Zealand has become increasingly vocal on issues including human rights, the international rules-based order and the potential militarisation of the Pacific.
On Monday, Hipkins said a small country like New Zealand cannot work alone, and the government recognises the importance of building partnerships and inclusivity to address global challenges.
That New Zealand’s approach will often align with that of our most likeminded partners, with whom we share many common interests and values, should not be a surprise,” he added.
“Common interests and concerns do not mean we will always take the same approach. Sometimes there is tactical strength in diverse approaches to achieve the same outcomes.”
China’s key role in New Zealand
According to Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong, Hipkins’ China visit was productive and fruitful as a new milestone in China-New Zealand relations.
“The visit has again showcased the broad consensus reached by the two countries at the highest level on the continued development of the bilateral relationship,” Xiaolong said.
“The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership keeps evolving and brings tangible benefits to the two countries,” he said, adding “that the partnership has great potential and vast room for further growth.”
Monday’s Annual China Business Summit, held by the Auckland Business Chamber and business intelligence firm NZINC, was attended by about 500 people from New Zealand and China’s political and business circles.