Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has said New Zealand will continue engagement with China, its largest trading partner, but will disagree with Beijing in areas where it challenges New Zealand’s national interests.
New Zealand has long been seen as a moderate or even absent voice on China in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the United States and its allies and is carefully managing its relationship with China amid the strategic rivalry between Beijing and Washington.
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“A strong, mature and complex relationship [with China] means we will have those tough conversations … but I think it’s better to be talking than not,” Hipkins said in a speech at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.
New Zealand will continue to disagree with China on several issues, including human rights, but the path of engagement will be “open and honest”, he said.
The speech comes about a week after Hipkins’ six-day visit to China, which included meetings with Xi Jinping, where the Chinese President said Beijing had always treated New Zealand as a “friend and partner”.
Hipkins said New Zealand must ensure greater economic resilience across its trade markets in a time of global uncertainty, adding its independent foreign policy did not mean a neutral stance.
“As a country, we may be small, but we are not bystanders. We chart our own course with decisions that are in our national interest,” Hipkins said, though he said any decision will not be “a radical departure” in the country’s foreign policy.
Hipkins said the US has been pivotal to maintain the system of international rules that help keep New Zealand’s interests safe, and he will continue to work closely with Washington.