Chinese media hype up Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' visit, says he knows 'how to respect other countries'

  • 26/06/2023

Chinese state media are hyping up New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' visit to the Asian superpower, with one outlet saying recent comments from the Kiwi leader show he knows "how to respect other countries".

Hipkins touched down in Beijing early on Monday morning for the start of a week-long trip that will include meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.

It's the first visit to China by a New Zealand Prime Minister since COVID-19. Dame Jacinda Ardern travelled there for a quick trip in 2019.

Since then, relations between China and the West have become even more icy, particularly over Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, and China's role in the Pacific.

New Zealand tries to balance pleasing traditional Western partners like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States (all members of the Five Eyes) and not getting offside with China, our largest trading partner.

As Hipkins begins his tour, Chinese state media are hyping up the visit and New Zealand-China relations.

The Global Times, the state-run tabloid, said New Zealand's "proactive" diplomacy and actions with respect to China set "an example for other Western countries". 

"Despite the changing international situation, China and New Zealand have continuously promoted the institutionalized construction of their bilateral relationship, laying a solid foundation of political mutual trust," wrote Qin Sheng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Against the backdrop of increasingly fierce great power competition and escalating geopolitical risks, the stable development of China-New Zealand relations has important and exemplary significance in the international community."

The article goes on to say that Hipkins had "diverged from Western hype" that Chinese leader Xi Jinping was a "dictator". 

"He showed a basic quality that a political leader should have - knowing how to respect other countries," the article said.

US President Joe Biden last week called Xi a "dictator", leading to swift condemnation from Beijing. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Biden's comment was "extremely absurd and irresponsible".

When asked for his view, Hipkins said he didn't agree with Biden that Xi was a dictator and that "the form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people". 

The rest of the Global Times article focuses primarily on trade, saying that Hipkins' trip will "further consolidate the existing advantages of bilateral economic and trade cooperation and expand new areas of cooperation". 

"Looking at the development process of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, China-New Zealand relations illustrate what mutual benefit and win-win cooperation mean."

CGTN, a state-run broadcaster, marked Hipkins arriving in China.

"During the visit, leaders of the two sides will hold an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of mutual interest, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry," it said.

Ahead of the trip, China's Xinhua published a short profile on Hipkins, noting that he was born in Hutt Valley, attended Victoria University and had been an MP since 2008.

The big focus for Hipkins on the trip will be trade. He's taking a large delegation with him, made up of leaders of a number of New Zealand's most well-known companies. 

Prior to the trip he said there wasn't much more "bread and butter" for New Zealand than trade. 

However, he does plan to raise a number of the difficult topics, like human rights. 

New Zealand has been outspoken about these issues before, whether it be condemning the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang or anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong.

The Government also spoke out against a security cooperation agreement struck between China and the Solomon Islands last year.

While New Zealand has avoided any severe retaliation from China for these criticisms, it was reported by The Australian last week that Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta received a "haranguing" by her Chinese counterpart during a trip earlier this year.