China and New Zealand deepen trade ties, discuss rights issues during Premier Li's visit

China's Premier Li Qiang (left) greeting New Zealand's Prime Minister Christopher Luxon during a joint press conference at Government House in Wellington on June 13, 2024. - AFP

WELLINGTON: New Zealand and China on Thursday (June 13) signed agreements on trade and climate change, with human rights also on the agenda, during a trip by Premier Li Qiang, the highest level Chinese visit to New Zealand in seven years.

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is seeking to balance rights and security concerns with the lucrative trade opportunities offered by Beijing, the country's largest export partner.

"The Premier and I discussed our significant economic relationship, which benefits people in both countries with two-way trade in goods worth nearly NZ$38 billion (US$23.43 billion)," Luxon said.

Li was greeted on the lawns of Government House in the capital Wellington by both Luxon and the governor-general and participated in a traditional Indigenous Maori welcome before heading inside for meetings.

"We agreed that it is important to expand cooperation on trade and investment," Li said following the meeting.

"China is ready to be part of New Zealand's endeavour to double the value of exports in next decade."

China will extend visa-free travel to New Zealanders, while New Zealand will support Chinese language teaching and cultural exchanges though its Confucius Institutes in the country, Li added.

Previously a more moderate voice on China, New Zealand's relationship with China has changed since the last time a Chinese premier visited in 2017.

New Zealand has toughened its stance this year, calling out Beijing for hacking the country's parliament and noting the growing threat China poses to security in the Pacific.

"I raised with Premier Li a number of issues that are important to New Zealanders and which speak to our core values, including human rights and foreign interference," Luxon said in a statement.

"New Zealand will continue to engage predictably and consistently with China, including on issues where we disagree,” Luxon said.

Luxon said other issues discussed included the disputed South China Sea, where China has become increasingly assertive, China's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc and the Aukus security alliance.

New Zealand, however, has largely avoided trade disputes with Beijing that have until recently impacted neighbouring Australia, where Li heads next in a trip aimed at boosting China's standing in the region.

Chinese-New Zealanders gathered at a central city hotel to greet the premier, holding banners supporting China’s relationship with New Zealand and waving Chinese flags and beating drums. Others held banners protesting China's treatment of its citizens.

"I’m just very excited to be here,” said Ling Wang, who had travelled two hours from city Palmerston North to greet the premier, having made the same trip in 2017 when Premier Li Keqiang visited. - Reuters

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