Beijing’s man in NZ calls for constructive dialogue between the two countries, but holds firm on Taiwan

China’s ambassador to New Zealand says constructive dialogue, rather than “megaphone diplomacy”, is needed if the two countries are to manage their differences while maintaining a strong relationship.

Wang Xiaolong has also warned against any challenge to his country’s stance on Taiwan, saying: “There is no red line redder than the Taiwan question.”

In a speech to the NZ Institute of International Affairs on Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of the NZ-China relationship, Wang said peaceful development was a defining feature of China’s approach to modernisation.

The country had never bullied or invaded others and would never do so, he added, while it would also never seek hegemony or engage in expansionism.

“We have, though, a saying in Chinese: the trees want to stay still, but the wind keeps blowing.”

Power politics and hegemonism were on the rise, with “a small number of countries” interfering in the internal affairs of others.

“Contrary to what these countries often claim, rather than ‘live and let live’, they apparently believe in ‘live and let die’,” Wang said, referring to decoupling and disruption of supply chains, as well as sanctions and other barriers.

Differences in values between countries were natural, and did not need to define international relationships. “Attempts to unify the world with a particular and uniform set of values have never succeeded. Instead, they have, without exception, ended in tragedy.”

‘Complete reunification of motherland’

Speaking about recent tensions with Taiwan, Wang said the territory was part of China from a historical and legal perspective and “the complete reunification of the motherland” was essential for China’s rejuvenation.

“If we’re going to talk about red lines, as far at least as China is concerned, there is no red line redder than the Taiwan question.”

Conflict in the Taiwan Strait was the last thing China wanted, but the country would not rule out the use of force to protect against outside interventions and its secession or independence.

On China’s relationship with New Zealand, Wang said the countries’ common interests outweighed their differences, claiming both stood for free trade and independent foreign policies as well as against “military alliances, taking sides and targeting third parties”.

Differences in opinion needed to be managed through constructive dialogue rather than megaphone diplomacy, with New Zealand’s reputation within China as a clean, green and friendly country built up over years.

“That requires inputs from governments, including our political leaders through, among other things, their public messaging; from competent and responsible media; and from members of the public on both sides.”

Talking about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Wang said China had been encouraging both sides to talk to each other and find a peaceful solution, but it believed other “forces” wanted a different outcome.

Asked when China would look to loosen its Covid-19 border restrictions and open back up to the world, Wang said the country’s “dynamic zero-Covid approach” would continue to adjust in line with the latest science, citing reductions already made to managed quarantine periods.

“We’ll continue that process and hopefully getting nearer the end of the year and early into next year, I think it will be going further in terms of the easing of those measures.”

“For China, how differences are handled – not just with New Zealand but all over the world – I think will be the cornerstone of its rise to great power status.”
– Jason Young, NZ Contemporary China Research Centre

Speaking after Wang, NZ Contemporary China Research centre director Jason Young said political tensions and Covid-19 border restrictions had disrupted person-to-person links, with the continuation of the latter “a major impediment” with a potentially long-lasting impact.

While the countries’ economies remained complementary, years of rapid post-FTA growth were at an end, and mutual trade interests were “not enough to maintain resilience in the New Zealand-China relationship”.

Young said he shared Wang’s concerns about global instability, with a shift towards power politics and strategic tensions – including in the South Pacific – “deeply troubling” many Kiwis.

Both China and New Zealand had shared interests on a number of issues, including climate change and trade, but differences between the two countries would remain a challenge.

Young said a focus within New Zealand on human rights issues and the countries’ foreign policy differences did not reflect China being singled out for extra scrutiny, but the fundamental values of our country’s social and political system.

“For China, how differences are handled – not just with New Zealand but all over the world – I think will be the cornerstone of its rise to great power status.”

John McKinnon, a former New Zealand ambassador to China and current chairman of the NZ China Council, echoed Young’s concerns about the impact of pandemic border restrictions, saying New Zealand had been “very light on political interaction and very light on people-to-people exchanges” as a result.

“The sooner we can move on from that, the better it will be for the overall health of the relationship and our ability to understand what is happening in China. We don’t always agree with it, but we will have a better understanding if we’re able to go there.”

Wang’s speech comes the same week as a meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden on the eve of the G20 summit in Bali, with hopes improved communication can lead to a de-escalation in rising tensions.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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