PM in China: Jacinda Ardern meets with Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shake hands before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shake hands before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AP
Jacinda Ardern finished her whirlwind visit to Beijing with a meeting with President Xi Jinping who spoke about taking an already very good relationship to new heights but also said the two countries had to trust each other.

"During the past 47 years of diplomatic ties, China - New Zealand relations have made historic strides and have become one of the closest between China and western developed countries," Xi said.

"Now [the] bilateral relationship faces new opportunities of development, our two sides must trust each other, pursue mutual benefit and strive to open up new grounds in our bilateral relations."

He said New Zealand had been the first western developed country to sign a free trade agreement with China.

"We must go forward with this same spirit and build the comprehensive strategic partnership and take already very good relations to a new height. This will deliver benefits to the people of both countries."

Xi expressed his condolences on the Christchurch shootings, as did Premier Li earlier in the day.

"Ever since you took office, you have on many occasions expressed a commitment to China-New Zealand relations. I do appreciate that," Xi said.

"In particular you [have] come to visit us when there are unusual circumstances and important tasks at home.

"Your presence here fully reflects the importance placed by your good self and your Government on New Zealand-China relations.

"This visit in itself has proved the special commitment of your country to relations with China.

"Let me also express deep sympathy on the Christchurch shootings," he said.

"China sees in New Zealand a sincere friend and co-operation partner."

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Ardern said she had not interpreted Xi's comments about trust in any pointed way.

She saw it as a comment meaning that all relationships were based around trust, "that we have a longstanding relationship where there is good understanding, where there will from time to time be differences".

"The differences between us certainly should not and will not define the relationship. Our relationship is too long, too great in history and has a layer of depth to it that I don't think it should be defined by those differences and I don't believe it will be."

On the issue of Huawei failing to get the green light from the GCSB on 5G, she said she had raised it proactively with Xi.

She had outlined the clear process in New Zealand's legislation which dictated how such decisions were made and she set out where the process was at.

And she had also raised the issues of human rights "particularly as it relates to Xinjiang", - a reference to the mass detention of Uighur Muslims.

Negotiations on an upgraded free trade agreement were discussed with Xi and Li.

She said the language had been around "hasten the work, speeding those negotiation".
"I took it to be very positive and a good signal to business in New Zealand that there is ambition around the free trade agreement."

Foreign Minister Wang Yi was at the Xi bilateral as well.

The trip is likely to be seen as a new beginnings for both sides after a difficult year last year, not least because New Zealand became more critical of China's militarisation in the South China Sea and openly wary of its intentions in the Pacific, not to mention Huawei failing to get the green light for 5G from the GCSB.

The massacre of 50 Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch happened only two weeks ago.

Ardern had been planning a week-long trip to China, including to Boao on Hainan Island and to Shanghai, but eventually proceeded with only the one-day Beijing leg.

Li's comments at the top of the bilateral meeting with Ardern welcomed her support for the relationship and hinted at a level of unhappiness at the treatment of Chinese investors in New Zealand.

He said he wanted to seek the broadest possible common ground in shared interests "and I hope the business communities of both countries enjoy a more enabling and more transparent environment when they make investments or do business in each other's markets".

"Before you came here you expressed how much importance your country gave to relationships with China and we want to depend our comprehensive strategic partnership and I know this also the wish of New Zealand.

"We attach high importance to our relations with New Zealand and we are ready to strengthen our relationship on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit."

Ardern thanked Xi for the condolences and in both meetings with him and Li, she extended New Zealand's condolences at the loss of life in an industrial accident in Jiangsu Province - an explosion in a chemical factory in which at least 60 people died.

Earlier she told Li she had wanted to come to China "to underline the importance that we place on our relationship with China".

"It is one of our most important and far reaching relationships, a point I have made in my public speeches over the past year."

She broke with tradition while on Government business and talked up the role of the Labour Party in having advanced relations with China.

She cited former Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk in recognising China in 1972 and former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark is signing a free trade agreement in 2008.

"The New Zealand Labour Party in particular is really proud of the record of engagement that we have with China."

After the talks concluded Li and Ardern watched four agreements being signed by NZ ambassador Clare Fearnley and various ministers:

• An agreement to eliminate double taxation and prevent tax evasion and avoidance.

• A memorandum on science and research co-operation.

• A memorandum for a bilateral financial dialogue.

• An agreement for a strategic plan on promoting agricultural co-operation.

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