Fran on China

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

John Key has firmly put his personal stamp on the New Zealand-China relationship by forging a “trusted partner” status with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi heralded the co-operation between China and New Zealand as “pioneering and exemplary”, saying he believed Key’s tour would instil new vitality into the bilateral relationship.

The Chinese President not only made sure New Zealand media were present for all of his reassuring opening remarks at the onset of the two leaders’ bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People, but he also welcomed Key and his officials “as family” to a rare private dinner.

Pretty good to be on such good terms with the President of our largest trading partner.

Key relates that Xi placed great store on his decision to go to China and offer explanations for the fiasco and the steps that our Government has taken to ensure there is no repeat. “You did the right thing by coming up,” Xi told Key. This move had “built trust” into the relationship.

The upshot was Xi’s decision to elevate the so-called apology tour into a full-scale official visit complete with a series of deliverables like announcing direct convertibility of the New Zealand dollar with the renminbi.

But Key’s biggest takeaway was securing a commitment from Xi to set a new joint goal of $30 billion for bilateral trade by 2020.

The significance of the commitment has possibly been under-sold.

From the NZ side, it is a statement of good intention. However the NZ Government has little influence on decisions made by individual NZ importers and exporters. They will go where the money is or goods are.

However in China, the Government has far more influence. When the Chinese President says he wants an extra $15 billion of trade with NZ in the next six years, then many Chinese companies will pay heed to that and NZ companies become preferred suppliers.

That statement by President Xi probably means more to NZ exporters than any domestic policy in NZ.

Here’s the thing: New Zealand exporters are scathing of the Opposition’s timing of the Oravida revelations. Beijing expats retain deep suspicions that in the first place, some “low-level” Foreign Affairs official leaked details of Cabinet minister Judith Collins’ off-schedule meetings with Stone Shi’s Oravida in October, and that the Opposition sat on the issue until the eve of the Prime Minister’s China trip to inflict maximum political damage while he was overseas.

Politics ahead of country. The issue is quite legitimate, but the timing was done to try and sabotage the visit. Fortunately for NZ exporters, they did not succeed.

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