BEIJING (Reuters) – China signed cooperative arrangements with “friend” New Zealand on Wednesday during a visit by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins aimed at improving market access for a Western country that has long maintained a conciliatory approach towards China.
The focus for Hipkins on his week-long visit has been increasing New Zealand’s exports, despite some warnings at home about an over-reliance on the world’s second-largest economy amid growing geopolitical tensions.
The two sides agreed in a joint declaration to strengthen trade and expand cooperation in areas such as e-commerce, the green economy, and establish a dialogue mechanism on new energy vehicles, Chinese state media reported.
They agreed on strengthening cooperation on food security and agriculture, based on recent talks on areas including diplomacy and defence, state media reported.
Both sides also undertook to begin negotiations on a “negative list” services framework this year. There was no elaboration in the joint statement that media published.
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China’s relations with the United States have been severely strained in recent years while ties with other Western countries such as Australia and Canada have also been rocky at times over various differences.
New Zealand, however, has historically taken a conciliatory approach towards China and last year it upgraded its free trade pact with the Asian giant.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told Hipkins in a meeting on Tuesday that China had always treated New Zealand as a “friend and partner” and was ready to promote a steady and sustained comprehensive strategic partnership.
Xi told Hipkins, who became prime minister in January, that he attached great importance to Sino-New Zealand ties.
While maintaining positive ties with China, New Zealand does raise concern about issues such as human rights and the militarisation of the Pacific as China extends its influence there.
“It was also important to acknowledge areas of difference, such as over human rights,” Hipkins said in a statement posted on his government’s website.
“We engaged on these as well, as we regularly do in a respectful but consistent way that is aligned with New Zealand’s independent interests and values.”
(Reporting by Ella Cao and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Robert Birsel)
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