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Chris Hipkins Earns China’s Praise – But He Won’t Want it All

Shanghai | ANALYSIS: When Chris Hipkins gobbled down his final sausage roll on a trip to China – yes you read that right – he had almost finished what has been a successful trip. There were salmon sausage rolls and cheesy ones. He can’t even escape them when he heads overseas.

Nor questions about cabinet ministers back home it seems.

He came to deliver the message, in China, that New Zealand is open for business and keen to trade – and in particular he made a point of saying that the country wants international students and tourists back – and he did so, repeatedly, everywhere he went.

In China, it is the words that matter, not so much the delivery, or at least that’s how it felt as Hipkins rolled up to event after event, read a speech and moved on. The schedule was gruelling and the message he consistently delivered was more or less the same.

Te Whānau a Apanui, the Te Matatini champions brought on the trip, added a lustre, richness and fun to the trip that each Chinese business audience clearly lapped up.

And there were a number of commercial deals signed by various companies while in China, Les Mills – which lists China as its fastest growing market – Zespri, Fonterra, Silver Fern Farms, Ziwi – a big Kiwi pet food producer – to just name a few. Mostly there were strategic partnerships which will see New Zealand firms partnering with Chinese ones to bring products to market in China.

This was always a dual-purpose trip for the new prime minister. Getting New Zealand interests in front of Chinese officials, so they can work their way through both country’s political systems, and to bring the imprimatur of the state to boost the status of the New Zealand businesses attending.

It’s all about NZ Inc, and in countries such as China, businesses being able to invite their Chinese counterparts to a dinner with the Prime Minister – of which there was one in Beijing and one in Shanghai – is a thing that really matters.

On the political end, the New Zealand diplomats, led by Ambassador Grahame Morton were clearly pleased with how the trip went. Because the nature of conversations are only partially revealed on New Zealand’s side, and barely at all on the Chinese side, you have to read the Chinese government-sanctioned press to find out what the Chinese Government basically makes of it all.

And the Chinese Government were clearly happy, congratulating New Zealand – indirectly – in an editorial in the China Daily which congratulated Hipkins saying that “although a member of the Five Eyes Alliance, New Zealand has maintained its dignity and earned respect by shunning the gung ho participation in the US’ “Indo-Pacific” strategy that has brought so much shame on Australia, Canada and the UK.”

It also noted how New Zealand kept its nuclear-free stance in the face of the AUKUS nuclear subs deal with Australia and the UK. Not that New Zealand was asked to join it in the first place.

It is praise New Zealand is not comfortable with – and has not encouraged – but has come to expect.

Yet Hipkins ensured that he didn’t fully buy into the language, refusing to use the Chinese language that New Zealand was a “friend and partner”, while saying that the conversation with Xi Jingoing was “warm and constructive”.

Something New Zealand’s traditional partners and perhaps Five Eyes partners will be keeping a close eye on.

But New Zealand is clear-eyed about its objectives in China. And that is to maintain a respectful relationship while also continuing to expand trade relations and commercial opportunities in the world’s fastest growing economy and with a growing middle class hungry for more protein, health products, lifestyle products and much besides.

There is little doubt that Hipkins will get some stick for not strongly enough raising the human rights abuses in China – because of New Zealand’s trade relationship. But, according to Hipkins he raised it relatively fulsomely with the new Chinese premier, and there’s little more he can meaningfully do.

One of the great things about trade is that you can still trade with people whose values you don’t share, which gives a basis of cooperating.

The lead of the business delegation, Sealord and Tourism New Zealand chair Jamie Tuuta, said that having the PM there elevated the trip, and he directly linked the significance of Hipkins meeting the top three political figures to the status of the business side of the trip.

There have been numerous interesting figures which have emerged out of the trip. China’s so-called “singles economy” of 93 million people is a key one many on the delegation have been talking about. This group is single, mostly lives along and the majority are women. So the products they wish to consume need to be a packaged with that in mind, sold through Chinese online channel and there’s considered to be opportunity in gaming and digital services.

Source : Stuff