Analysis New Zealand, in recession and heading to the polls, is pragmatic on trade with China

Analysis New Zealand, in recession and heading to the polls, is pragmatic on trade with China

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hepkins proceeded cautiously during his first visit to China as leader last week. He focused on trade and economic opportunities, but avoided controversial issues such as human rights abuses in Xinjiang or security issues.

Barely three months before a potentially tight election and with the economy already in recession, analysts say Hipkins wants to step out of the shadow of prominent former leader Jacinda Ardern and show he’s the one to take the country another three years. to lead.

Among other things, Hipkins’ focus is on reassuring voters that Labor is the party that restores prosperity – and that means avoiding friction with the country’s largest trading partner, which could hurt New Zealand’s exports.

“This was a major visit for Hipkins, who has raised his profile as the new prime minister in an election year,” said Robert Eason, professor of strategic studies at the University of Victoria.

“Hipkins took a jab at whatever was controversial. We got back, at least for a while, with New Zealand acknowledging its disagreement with China on some important issues, without actually naming it.”

New Zealand has long been seen as the most conciliatory country towards China among the five eyes security group, which includes Australia, the United States, Britain and Canada.

But the country’s foreign minister, Nana Mahuta, and Ardern, in their recent meetings with their counterparts, cited the situation in Xinjiang and the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, while expressing concern about the potential for militarization of the Pacific and tensions in the Taiwan Strait. .

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The statement following Hipkins’ meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping did not mention any of these issues.

“Hipkins’ visit certainly ticked the box of international legitimacy for China, and Beijing benefited at least as much from Hipkins’ visit as it did from New Zealand exporters,” said Iason of the University of Victoria.

New Zealand exporters were also prominent on the visit, as a delegation of 29 companies traveled to China with the prime minister.

Business is not a traditional Labor constituency, but Hipkins has been aiming to win over the sector since taking office – he spent his first full working day in January meeting with business leaders in Auckland.

“I feel this is an important aspect of domestic politics in an election year, and that Hipkins wants to be seen as a good proxy for the relationship with China,” said David Kabey, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Victoria. the university.

According to the latest opinion polls at the end of May, the coalition of the National Opposition and Law Parties is ahead of the Labor and Greens coalition. However, neither coalition has a clear majority.

Derek J. said: Grossman, senior defense analyst at RAND Corp. in the US, said the trade-focused visit is unlikely to have a negative impact on New Zealand’s relationship with other partners, as many countries are aware of Wellington’s delicate balancing act. He plays.

“Furthermore, as the Biden administration has made clear with India on relations with Russia, as long as the partners agree to work together on an Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China, Washington is willing to tolerate a lot of behavior that is not compatible with its interests or even values.”

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