Barry Soper: What Jacinda Ardern's trip to China will achieve

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Mon, 1 Apr 2019, 5:59AM
Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Asean Summit in November in Singapore. Photo / ASEAN.
Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Asean Summit in November in Singapore. Photo / ASEAN.

Barry Soper: What Jacinda Ardern's trip to China will achieve

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Mon, 1 Apr 2019, 5:59AM

In this Government's rush to create and deliver a Budget that'll focus on the well being of its citizens.

In its rush to plant a billion trees and to pour mega money into the provinces.

In its rush develop its ill-conceived Kiwibuild programme, to get the hard-up into houses that they're still too poor to buy.

In its rush to rid the country of plastic bags, and to populate the world with turtles that clearly need to be re-educated when it comes to their culinary tastes.

In its cozying up to the Americans by pouring more cash into the Pacific in an attempt to neutralise the Chinese and puffing its chest over the South China Sea where we've always adopted a relatively passive stance.

And the ditching, without a clear explanation, of the world’s leading telecommunications giant Huawei for Spark’s 5G broadband rollout until it can prove it's not planning to spy on us, even though that hasn’t been proven anywhere else in the world, is insulting.

In all of this, the Beehive seems to have forgotten one thing - Beijing.

Without the Chinese, or more importantly without the cash that's transacted between our two countries, in trade, more than $30 billion a year, New Zealand would be hard pressed to do a lot of things it would like to.

On the trade front China's more important to us than any other. Trade with America is less than a third of what it is with China and improvement on that front anytime soon certainly doesn't appear to be on the cards.

Having the ear of big business over lunch in Beijing over the weekend, one thing became clear, New Zealand is currently not the friend that it once was but like all longstanding friendships, it's not beyond redemption.

And it is longstanding, going back to the diplomatic recognition of China in the early 70s, leading the western world. And again, becoming leaders with the first free trade agreement with China in 2008, which has seen an explosion of goods and services between the two countries ever since.

It's long been said that we need China more than it needs us. In dollar terms that may be true, but in diplomatic terms that's not the case.

China sees New Zealand as a western country that carries more influence than its size, they see it as a voice of reason and they see it a country that deserves and gets respect.

So our Government may dismiss any signals from Beijing as nothing more than scheduling issues. The delay in Jacinda Ardern taking up her withheld invitation to visit the Chinese capital and the delay in the Chinese tourism launch in Wellington, was more than just scheduling.

To even publicly suggest that is in itself seen here as insulting, as though the Chinese, meticulous when it comes to planning, are somehow incompetent when it comes to following through.

The Chinese were sending us a message and we should have taken it on the diplomatic chin.

The fact that Ardern's decided to go to Beijing for lunch with the Chinese Premier and afternoon tea with the President, at their invitation, shows they're willing to put the dropped ball back in play.

The meeting in the Chinese capital today, on a trip that'll see the Prime Minister in the air for longer than she’ll be on the ground, won't achieve much in terms delivering the goods which are a given anyway, but it's the symbolism that counts.

And like all damaged friendships, meeting the aggrieved on their home turf, is a start.

- Barry Soper travelled to Beijing, courtesy of Air New Zealand

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