What Chinese President Xi Jinping thinks of New Zealand

As the Prime Minister's whirlwind China trip wrapped up, New Zealanders were given a glimpse of what the leader of the world's second largest economy thinks of our small island nation. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Jacinda Ardern on Monday in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People, where the pair discussed the China-New Zealand "comprehensive strategic partnership". 

There was a lot weighing on Ardern as she travelled to China for her first official visit as Prime Minister. She had to quash speculation of a strained relationship while also being a voice for democracy and human rights. 

In the wake of the Christchurch terror attack and Ardern's international recognition, the world watched with interest to see if Ardern's unique political approach could woo the stoic Chinese President as rumours spread of a soured relationship.  

And her approach seemed to pay off. In their first sit-down in Beijing, Xi told Ardern that China had always viewed New Zealand as a sincere friend and partner, according to China's state-backed Global Times

Xi had already sent condolences to New Zealand over the Christchurch shootings, and he reiterated that in his meeting with Ardern, noting how China clearly mattered to Ardern given she had taken the time to be there after the crisis. 

Xi called on both countries to "deepen the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership based on the principles of mutual trust and mutual benefit", going on to highlight New Zealand as the first developed Western nation to sign a free-trade deal with China.  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo credit: Getty

In an official statement, Ardern said she raised with Xi the "importance New Zealand places on upgrading and modernising our Free Trade Agreement with China" - which hasn't been updated for just over 10 years. 

Xi also called for the speeding up of negotiations on the upgrade of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement signed in 2008, and he encouraged both countries to enhance cooperation on international affairs. 

Ardern earlier met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, signing memorandums of understanding on agricultural cooperation, bilateral financial dialogue and science and research cooperation.

The President's high praise for New Zealand was in contrast to earlier reports that the China-New Zealand relationship was rocky, particularly after the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) warned Spark of security risks in Huawei's 5G equipment.  

In her first appearance since arriving in Beijing on Monday, Ardern told media that China had nothing to worry about regarding the GCSB's warning, and that the notion Huawei had been banned in New Zealand was "just not true". 

"Obviously, we have Huawei products in New Zealand - this is simply an application around 5G that has been brought by Spark and it will be helpful for me to explain that process and the fact that there has been some misreporting."

But beneath President Xi's flattery, he said China would support capable enterprises to invest in New Zealand, as long as New Zealand "provides a fair, just and unbiased business environment for Chinese enterprises". 

Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review the Guard of Honour of the People's Liberation Army at The Great Hall of the People.
Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review the Guard of Honour of the People's Liberation Army at The Great Hall of the People. Photo credit: Getty

Ardern has remained quiet about the details of her discussion with President Xi, and it is not known exactly what the President was referring to. It could point to Huawei, or the foreign buyer ban on New Zealand property - or nothing in particular. 

And she also has not yet disclosed how Xi responded when she raised the issue of human rights with him - something she was urged to do by Human Rights Watch having raised concerns about the treatment of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.  

"I raised the issue [of human rights] directly with the Premier and with the President. You can't do much more than that," Ardern said after her meeting with Xi. 

China is New Zealand's most significant trading partner, with upwards of $27 billion in two-way trade last year.