China: New Zealand FM seeks cooperation with strategic autonomy

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta

22nd March 2023 – (Beijing) New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, is set to visit China from Wednesday to Saturday, seeking to strengthen cooperation with the country despite pressure from the US and its allies. Mahuta’s trip marks the first visit to Beijing by a New Zealand minister since 2019 and comes after the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The visit is significant for New Zealand, as China is the country’s largest trading partner, accounting for about 30% of New Zealand’s total exports. In a statement before her trip, Mahuta highlighted the importance of the relationship between the two countries and the areas of cooperation that she intends to discuss, including trade, people-to-people connections, and climate and environmental issues.

New Zealand’s new prime minister, Chris Hipkins, has also emphasized the importance of the relationship between the two countries, saying that “China is a very important relationship to New Zealand.” Hipkins took office in January 2023 and has already spoken positively about the country’s relationship with China, stating that it was “important that we reestablish those in-person opportunities to engage country-to-country.”

Chinese analysts have noted that Mahuta’s visit demonstrates New Zealand’s commitment to maintaining its strategic autonomy despite pressure from US-led Western allies. They predict that high-level exchanges between the two countries will provide guidance for the future development of bilateral ties and explore how New Zealand can coordinate with China’s path to modernization, benefiting both countries’ peoples.

However, New Zealand’s relationship with China is not without its challenges. The country’s stance on key security issues such as the Ukraine crisis and human rights concerns will likely be discussed during Mahuta’s meeting with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang.

Chinese observers predict that the two countries will advance cooperation in fields such as trade, responding to climate change, and environmental protection. They also highlight the potential for tourism and education to serve as new engines for the advancement of people-to-people exchanges.

While Mahuta’s visit is an important step towards strengthening the relationship between the two countries, Chinese analysts hold different opinions on whether New Zealand will join China in protesting regional hot-spot issues such as the AUKUS alliance and Japan’s dumping of nuclear-contaminated water.

Despite these challenges, New Zealand remains committed to maintaining a positive relationship with China. The visit by Mahuta is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for future high-level exchanges between the two countries and explore areas of cooperation that will benefit both nations.