China-New Zealand: an endless work in progress Brian Lynch reports on the second China-New Zealand symposium, held in Beijing last December to commemorate the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Author:Lynch, Brian
Position::CONFERENCE REPORT
 
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The second in a two-part series of symposia to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand was held in Beijing on 4 December 2012. It was hosted by the highly respected Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), in partnership with the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) and the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs. The next generation tasked with carrying these important bilateral ties forward was well represented in the audience by CASS scholars and notably by a group of nearly 30 VUW students on a study tour to China.

Unsurprisingly there were some similarities in the two programmes, but they were not mirror images. The one offered in Wellington on 5 September 2012 had a more distinct reflective aspect to it, which was appropriate for the first in the series. That provided in Beijing was more obviously focused on 'where to from here?' As the first symposium had done (see the report on it in the NZIR, vol 37, no 6) but this time to a largely Chinese audience, the Beijing programme, too, had a strong emphasis on the development of the bilateral relationship and its current trends, and on opportunities to broaden and deepen the two-way engagement.

In his welcoming address the secretary-general of CASS, Huang Haotao, set a positive tone in observing that distance had been no barrier to the growth of strong and comprehensive links underpinning a mature, mutually beneficial and respectful relationship. He referred to 'multifaceted ties' in fields as diverse as disaster relief, the environment, finance, food safety and food security. At the people-to-people level, understanding was being encouraged by the growth in two-way tourism and student numbers and by the fact that 29 cities and provinces in China were now 'twinned' with New Zealand counterparts. The boom in trade since the free trade agreement was signed in 2008 came in for special mention, as did New Zealand's continuing unique position of being the only developed country to have established formal trade accords with both China and the Hong Kong special administrative region.

Following the CASS secretary-general, the VUW deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Neil Quigley, also spoke of the importance of the economic interaction, including investment that was a model for others, and valuable educational co-operation, of which a good example was the staff exchange scheme between VUW and CASS. He noted that the free trade agreement had helped cushion New Zealand against the most severe impacts of the global financial crisis and identified development assistance in the South Pacific as an emerging area of worthy bilateral co-operation.

Huge importance

The first session of the symposium, chaired by the current president of the NZIIA, Sir Douglas Kidd, featured two former ambassadors from each country and the present New Zealand ambassador. In his introductory remarks, Sir Douglas recalled the acceptance by New Zealand in 1972 that the country could not afford to continue to ignore 'one quarter of humanity'. He described today's relationship as 'hugely' important to New Zealand and a dominant factor in encouraging recognition by New Zealanders of their country's Asian destiny. Chen Ming Ming had been Chinas popular ambassador to New Zealand from 2001 to 2005. He gave some intriguing insights into the initial discussion about exploring a free trade agreement, where he had been instrumental, and the eventual bilateral decision to press ahead that by normal standards had been reached remarkably quickly. He saw significant promise for future collaboration in dairy farming, the film industry and food...

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