New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said that they will develop a closer relationship with China and cooperate on trade agreements, burying any fears that his protectionist campaign rhetoric would fuel tension with a key trading partner.
The 40-year old minister played a key part in bringing the Labour Party to a position of power this October after an inconclusive election had put New Zealand First party on the spotlight of power balance.
Many in China, however, see New Zealand as a model for the Asian giant’s relationship with Western countries, with President Xi Jinping last year calling the depth of the bond “unprecedented”.
“Our record of trade and economic firsts is dramatic,” Mr Peters, who is also deputy prime minister, told academics and diplomats in Wellington, setting out his stance on China for the first time since taking office.
“New Zealand will continue to seek closer cooperation with China as both countries focus on sustainable economic development and the wellbeing of our peoples,” Peters said, giving a complimentary account of 45 years of diplomatic ties.
Mr Peters had a protectionist rhetoric during his campaign, vowing to slash immigration and curb foreign investment, which did fuel concerns that he could alienate their Asian partners, being their top destination for goods exports.
On the previous National government’s watch, New Zealand became the first developed country to join the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and helped usher in other Western countries, according to treasury officials.
Mr Peters went a step further and also defended China’s human rights record, which has at times drawn fire from rights groups:
“Sometimes commentators in the West should have a little more regard to that, and the economic outcome for those people, rather than constantly harping on about the romance of freedom,” Peters said.
And for all the rhetoric from the west about the Chinese crackdown on activists, none of them ever seem to complain about the relatively cheap prices of their gadgets, smartphones and other goods coming from China.
On the contrary, they vote with their wallets every time they go out shopping, and their actions (for the most part) are quite supportive of trade with China, despite the serious human rights violations.