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China’s foreign minister begins New Zealand, Australia tour

On Wang Yi’s agenda: Wellington’s defense arrangements, Canberra’s business interests and diplomacy in the South Pacific.

China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi started a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand and Australia with a series of meetings with New Zealand ministers in Wellington in Monday, before he travels on to Canberra on Tuesday.

Wang met his New Zealand counterpart Winston Peters and Trade Minister Todd McClay, after which it was announced that he had invited Peters, McClay and New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon to China for a return visit at an unspecified future date.

For Luxon, it would be his first visit to China since being elected prime minister last October.

What did China and New Zealand discuss?

During the meetings, Peters said Wang raised the topic of New Zealand’s potential accession to the so-called AUKUS alliance, a military pact between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to cooperate on the development of advanced weapons systems and counterbalance the rise of China in the Pacific region.

Beijing has been fiercely critical of AUKUS plans to supply Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

“[Wang] did raise AUKUS with me and I pointed out the right of countries to organize their defense arrangements if they felt the need to have such arrangements,” Peters said, without giving details.

New Zealand’s strict anti-nuclear policy, adopted in the 1980s, declares all the air, land and sea around the country a nuclear-free zone. This means New Zealand would not be part of the submarine deal and it would only be involved in “pillar two” of the accord, covering cyber warfare, artificial intelligence and the development of long-range hypersonic missiles.

“It was a very frank, candid and open conversation in that context,” Peters said. “We understood where he’s coming from and I’m certain he understands where we’re coming from.”

According to a statement issued by Peters after the meeting, the ministers discussed trade, business and security in the Pacific as well as “areas of difference” including human rights and the situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet.

“We also highlighted New Zealand and China’s shared interest in a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region and raised concerns over increased tensions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait,” the statement added.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is Beijing’s top diplomat

New Zealand: between Five Eyes, AUKUS and China

New Zealand is already part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance alongside the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, but it has faced criticism for taking a softer line on China – putting its trading relationship ahead of its allies’ security concerns.

China is New Zealand’s top trading partner, with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reporting two-way goods and services trade totaling NZ$38.67 billion ($23.55 billion) in the year ended September 2023.

China has praised Wellington’s stance as “rational and mature” but has concerns regarding security cooperation between New Zealand and Western allies.

In his meeting with trade minister McClay, Wang said China was ready to push bilateral cooperation to a new level by implementing an upgraded version of the two nations’ free trade agreement.

Wang also said ties between both countries continue to be in a leading position among China’s relations with other developed countries, according to official Chinese media outlet Xinhua.

Yang Henguin on the agenda for China and Australia

Wang flies to Australia on Tuesday for discussions with his Australian counterpart Penny Wong, before holding a roundtable with Australian business leaders in Canberra on Wednesday.

It will be the first visit in seven years by a Chinese foreign minister and the first time Wang and Wong have met face-to-face since Australian citizen Yang Henguin was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death in February – a topic which is expected to be on the agenda.

The pair are also expected to discuss the removal of the last remaining trade tariffs that were imposed on Australia by China in 2020. The tariffs were widely regarded as punishment for Australian legislation which barred Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns.

The tariffs reportedly cost Australia’s economy an estimated 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion), but have since been wound back on most goods except wine, rock lobsters and some abattoirs.

“I look forward to a frank exchange of views on our shared interests, points of difference, and our respective roles in upholding a region that is peaceful, stable and secure,” Wong said in a statement on Tuesday.

Australian business leaders want to ‘understand China better’

On Wednesday, Wang will conclude his trip with talks with Australian business leaders, who say their country lacks knowledge of its Pacific neighbor.

The Australia China Business Council (ACBC) will host a private meeting between Wang and 11 business, university and think tank representatives who are seeking a “better understanding of how China views its place in the world” as well as “critical” insights on how Beijing views Washington.

ACBC national president David Olsson said Australian business had been “left on the sidelines,” with government dialogue dominated by national security concerns.

“We want to hear how Wang Yi and China are approaching the US relationship, because that is a critical component of our understanding of our trade flows,” he said.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner but the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act, designed to reduce US dependence on China, is having far-reaching consequences for the global supply chain for clean energy and critical minerals, including in Australia.

“We are trying to find as much information as possible to form our own assessment of how we go forward in a very complex and uncertain world,” said Olsson. “We are all awaiting the US election outcomes and waiting to see how China responds to that.”

Source: Dw

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