Analysis: New Zealand, in recession and heading to polls, goes pragmatic on China trade

Analysis: New Zealand, in recession and heading to polls, goes pragmatic on China trade

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins took a cautious approach during his first trip to China, focusing on trade and economic opportunities while avoiding sensitive issues like human rights abuses and security concerns. This strategic move comes as Hipkins aims to establish himself as a capable leader ahead of the upcoming election and prove that he can effectively govern the country for another three years. One of his main objectives is to assure voters that the Labour Party can bring back prosperity, which necessitates maintaining a positive relationship with China, New Zealand’s largest trading partner. This visit was significant for Hipkins as he solidifies his profile as a new prime minister in an election year.

Hipkins deliberately refrained from addressing controversial topics during his visit, demonstrating New Zealand’s willingness to acknowledge disagreements with China without explicitly mentioning them. Among the Five Eyes security grouping, which includes Australia, the U.S., Britain, and Canada, New Zealand has traditionally been viewed as the most conciliatory towards China. However, recent meetings between New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and former leader Jacinda Ardern with their Chinese counterparts did touch upon issues such as Xinjiang, Hong Kong, potential militarization in the Pacific, and tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Surprisingly, the statement released after Hipkins’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping made no mention of these concerns.

According to Robert Ayson, a professor of strategic studies at Victoria University, Hipkins’s visit provided China with international legitimacy and Beijing gained as much, if not more, from the visit as New Zealand exporters did. The delegation accompanying the prime minister to China included 29 businesses, highlighting the importance of the business sector in Hipkins’s strategy. Although business is not traditionally a supporter of the Labour Party, Hipkins has been actively working to win their support since taking office. This focus on the business sector is driven by Hipkins’s desire to be seen as a capable steward of the China relationship, particularly in an election year.

Recent polls indicate that a coalition of opposition parties, National and Act, is currently ahead of a Labour-Green party coalition. However, neither coalition is projected to secure a clear majority. Despite the trade-focused nature of Hipkins’s visit to China, Derek J. Grossman, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corp, believes that it is unlikely to negatively impact New Zealand’s relationships with other partners. Many countries understand the delicate balancing act that New Zealand is engaged in. Grossman also notes that the Biden administration has shown a willingness to tolerate behavior that does not align with its interests or values, as long as partners cooperate on the Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China.

In conclusion, Hipkins’s visit to China was carefully orchestrated to prioritize trade and economic opportunities while sidestepping contentious issues. By doing so, he aims to establish himself as a capable leader and win the support of the business sector. The delicate balancing act between maintaining a positive relationship with China and addressing concerns raised by other partners is a key challenge for New Zealand. However, the trade-focused visit is unlikely to have any significant negative consequences on New Zealand’s relationships with other countries.

About News Team

Hi, I'm Alex Perez, an experienced writer with a focus on lifestyle and culture news. From food and fashion to travel and entertainment, I love exploring the latest trends and sharing my insights with readers. I also have a strong interest in world news and business, and enjoy covering breaking stories and events.

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