Our biggest export market is changing post-Covid – and trading with China has always been a tightrope anyway. What does New Zealand have to watch out for? 

Our economy or our morals – is it one or the other when it comes to China?

Every country is scrambling to rebuild their economies after the wrecking ball of the pandemic.

Trade plays a major part in New Zealand’s income and China is our top trading partner.

It takes a third of our dairy, 40 percent of our meat and 60 percent of our forestry, bringing in billions of dollars for us.

But our Government is increasingly speaking out on China’s international agenda, and when it comes to dealing with that very sensitive country, that’s a tricky tightrope.

Today The Detail looks at how Covid-19 and growing political tensions have affected business with China.

Speaking at the China Business Summit on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeatedly said the communist country was “one of our most important relationships”.

But she also pointed out the different perspectives New Zealand had on Taiwan being excluded from the WHO, Hong Kong’s new security law and the plight of the Uighur people.

“It’s quite natural for us to raise concern about Hong Kong’s security laws … but ultimately issues between New Zealand and other countries are normal and should not curtail or define our bilateral relationships to which we remain absolutely committed,” said Ardern.

That did little to appease Chinese Ambassador Madame Wu, who also spoke at the summit.

Her parting shot was clear.

“China has always followed the principle of non-interference in others’ internal affairs. At the same time, China stands ready to … safeguard its core and major interests. Issues related to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet all touch on China’s sovereignty and security and these are all China’s internal affairs.”

Australia has already borne the brunt of China’s displeasure with tariffs, bans and threats, after our neighbours led calls for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

Newsroom’s senior political reporter Laura Walters says New Zealand has traditionally been good at navigating these tricky political arenas, but needs to diversify its trade in order to avoid economic blowouts.

“It’s all about walking a tightrope and New Zealand’s becoming a bit of a more skilled acrobat … but there’s only so long you can kind of avoid being really direct and I think we are seeing that at the moment with Covid,” she says.

“Sometimes you just have to say what you mean and put your stake in the ground.”

And as if managing diplomacy wasn’t enough, Kiwi business people are also facing changing consumer trends in China.

The Detail’s Jessie Chiang speaks to Mark Tanner, the founder and managing director of China Skinny, a marketing company that helps brands enter and grow in China.

In today’s podcast he tells us how the pandemic has changed buying patterns and habits there.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Jessie Chiang is the associate producer of The Detail podcast.

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