What lies ahead for Sino-New Zealand relations? Stephen Jacobi comments on the state of the relationship today, where it might head in the future and the importance of strong legal frameworks.

AuthorJacobi, Stephen

When, back in September 1973, those first New Zealand diplomats walked across the border between Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China, to begin their long train journey to Beijing to open the New Zealand Embassy, they could not have imagined how this relationship might develop. From small beginnings both countries have now developed a 'Comprehensive Strategic Partnership' which has guided the relationship in recent years. China and New Zealand have pioneered a series of historic 'firsts', including a ground-breaking free trade agreement which entered into force in 2008. Late last year New Zealand and China upgraded the free trade agreement, with a package of agreements to further streamline trade and investment and to take account of recent developments, particularly in the areas of services trade, e-commerce and a growing interest in making sure trade and the environment work better together. This is very good news and shows that our two governments are focused on continuing to enhance the relationship.

Trade was almost non-existent in 1973 and only a third of its current size in 2008: today, China is New Zealand's largest trading partner and (after Australia) our second largest source of investment. In China we are increasingly well known as a reliable supplier of safe, sustainable and nutritious food products and other high quality goods and services. Chinese investors have found in New Zealand profitable business opportunities which are contributing to economic growth and development in our country, including in the regions.

But this relationship is not just about business. The significant flow of Chinese tourists, students and immigrants to New Zealand is enriching our society with talent and diversity and helping build mutual understanding day by day. This understanding is vital, given that our two countries are different in so many ways--certainly in size and scale but also historically, culturally and, definitely, politically. China and New Zealand will not see eye to eye on some important things, but, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in her first official visit to Beijing in April 2019, this should not stop us working together where it makes sense to do so.

There are some in New Zealand today who argue that we are becoming too dependent economically on China. It is true that our businesses need a wide range of partners, which is why we actively pursue other trade initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). My view is that the real risk to the relationship is that we focus so much on the economic side that we under-invest in other important areas.

Building connections

This is the context in which the New Zealand China Council works to advance New Zealand interests in the relationship and build strong and resilient connections between our two countries. The council was established seven years ago as a body supported by, but independent of, the government and our activities are aimed at stimulating discussion and dialogue, providing information and advocacy and...

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