BY SILVI WRITER
New Zealand and China are trying to restore their bilateral relations, which has become “shaky” in recent months for the ban of Huawei equipment in the Oceanian country.
New Zealand confirmed it will send a senior government official to the upcoming Belt and Road forum, baby of President Xi Jinping, in April in Beijing.
“We are pleased to confirm that New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker will represent New Zealand at the Belt and Road Forum in April 2019,” a New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told the Global Times in an email sent on Friday.
China is a very important and highly valued partner for New Zealand, the spokesperson noted.
“We have strong political, trade, and cultural ties. New Zealand places a very high priority on our relationship with China. It is a significant relationship that brings great benefit to both parties,” the spokesperson added.
The comments came after bilateral relations have soured in recent months. Huawei has been banned from supplying 5G equipment in both Australia and the United States, and New Zealand’s spy agency has raised concerns about the use of Huawei equipment in our 5G network.
In November, New Zealand authorities instructed Spark, a major local carrier in New Zealand, not to use Huawei’s 5G technology, citing national security reasons.
Huawei has not stopped moving forward in the country.
“5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand,” Huawei said in its new rugby-themed advertisement in the country, which has also been placed in local newspapers.
In a sign of apparent tensions, China has postponed the launch of the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, a major tourism promotion, at Wellington’s Te Papa museum, citing scheduling issues, and put a visit by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on hold.
The People’s Daily, considered China’s official mouthpiece, published an article claiming tourists are turning away from New Zealand.
But both countries have apparently begun to make effort to restore the ties recently.
Ardern said in last week Huawei has not been ruled out of playing a role in the development of the nation’s 5G wireless communications network.
“It is technically true that the use of Huawei 5G equipment has not been completely ruled out at this point but as things stand right now, we cannot use Huawei,” Andrew Pirie, head of corporate relations of Spark, told the Global Times on Friday.
“Spark is still in discussions with GCSB [Government Communications Security Bureau] officials,” Pirie said.
“We are working through what possible mitigations we might be able to provide to address the concerns raised by the GCSB.”
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said it’s in the interests of both countries and people that China-New Zealand relations enjoy stable and healthy development.
Geng said New Zealand “has long been a front runner among developed countries to develop ties with China”, and suggested both countries to enhance mutual trust, step up cooperation, and brush off interference.
Chinese tourists will overtake Australia as New Zealand’s largest tourism market by 2024, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment of the island country forecasts.
China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and biggest commodity export destination. According to stats.govt.nz, New Zealand’s two-way trade with China reached NZ$26.1 billion ($18 billion) in the December 2017 calendar year.
The country has witnessed a rapid growth in exports to China, which has driven the country’s trade surplus. New Zealand had a NZ$3.6 billion ($2.5 billion) goods and services trade surplus with China for the December 2017 calendar year.
In order to further liberalize and facilitate trade and investment between the two countries, Beijing and Wellington are negotiating to upgrade the free trade agreement (FTA). It is believed the revamped FTA will be finalized in the near future, taking bilateral economic and trade cooperation to new heights to benefit people of both sides.
“New Zealand has benefitted a lot from the Asian economic development. It shouldn’t act as an anti-China pawn of the US,” Yu Lei, a chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries, Liaocheng University of China, warned.