Peter Landon-Lane is the CEO of the NZ Institute for Plant & Food Research, chairman of Science New Zealand and a member of the advisory board of the New Zealand China Council. He writes on the importance of ag-research links to the NZ China relationship.

AgResearch scientist Dr Phil Rolston was honoured with China's International Science and Technology Co-operation Award in January - China's supreme accolade for foreign scientists.

The award was in recognition of his work over 30 years on grasslands seed development and pasture improvement which helped transform vast areas of semi-desert in China into productive farmland.

The honour accorded to Dr Rolston highlights the role science and scientists have played in forging the relationship that New Zealand now enjoys with China.

Dr Rolston, like most of his peers, won't be a household name, and our international science relationships usually don't make headlines, but they have had a lasting impact on trade, economic growth, incomes and living standards in both our countries.

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By working together, New Zealand and Chinese scientists have enriched both countries' economies through advancements ranging from plant genetics, food security and safety, to stronger and better environmental practices.

We work well together because the things that matter to us, also matter to China.

Things like agriculture and food; land, water and air quality; health and well being.

Our science relationships with China go back a long way.

One of the first and most influential of these was Dr Li Lairong, who was returning home from the USA when his boat was rerouted to New Zealand following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.

Dr Li worked here for several years for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, predecessor of New Zealand's Crown Research Institutes, before returning to China where he went on to have a distinguished career in horticultural science.

When China began to reform in the 1970's, science played an important role in opening doors for New Zealand. In the early days, cooperation was largely about helping China come up to speed with modern research techniques and knowledge.

But from the beginning the science relationship was grounded in mutual benefit.

Chinese scientists came here to study and work in our institutes, while our scientists went to China and strengthened their skills on areas that were important for New Zealand.

Most of us know kiwifruit, or Chinese gooseberry, originated in China, but few are aware our exports relied on a single species until the 1970s, when the same Dr Li Lairong was instrumental in the gifting to New Zealand of seeds of other wild kiwifruit varieties.

These were used in breeding the new cultivars that are the basis of our industry's on-going success.

Today, the science relationship is highly developed, with many New Zealanders and Chinese studying and working in each others' countries every year.

We work side by side on science in multilateral organisations such as the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation, the international food standards body CODEX, World Meteorological Organisation, International Atomic Energy Commission, and others.

There is a Government-to-Government science agreement that has food safety and security, water research, and non-communicable diseases as priority areas for collaboration.

New Zealand's research institutes and universities are also adding to their long-standing scientist-to-scientist relationships with more strategic institute-to-institute linkages.

This is all much more than a byline in the China relationship.

Our scientists and researchers work closely with New Zealand industry and Government to support our key business and national interests in China, as we do in the rest of the world.

It is critical for us to keep building these science relationships.

China is no longer a developing nation and net recipient of knowledge. In the same way that China has become an economic power it is also becoming a major force in science.

With most of the world beating a path to China's door, our long-standing, close and mutually beneficial science relationships with China are a valuable national asset.