China's ambassador to NZ, Wang Lutong, looks at the developing trade and cultural relationships between the two countries.

When a 17-year-old Peter Jackson first indulged in the famous British writer JRR Tolkien's fantasy "Lord of the Rings", he probably never envisaged that the author's depiction of Middle Earth would one day become another name for New Zealand.

Even more difficult to comprehend, would have been the fact that the Lord of the Rings trilogy took the New Zealand film industry to international stages, and fostered a close bond with China, a country separated from New Zealand by a vast ocean.

Attracted by the incentives of the New Zealand government, Spielberg, Cameron and other major international directors have come to New Zealand to film or carry out post production of movies such as King Kong, Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin and The Hobbit. As a result, the film industry has generated huge profits.

Tourists from around the globe have flocked to Middle Earth to experience this pure, unique and mysterious paradise. In 2015, international visitors to New Zealand exceeded three million for the first time, with tourism becoming New Zealand's second largest export industry.

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I once had a Chinese-speaking Kiwi friend who joked that New Zealand is also "China", since New Zealand is 'Middle Earth'. Because In Chinese, China is literally translated as 'Middle Kingdom'. Joking aside, a movie can become a business card for a country, highlighting the unique charm of culture.

Based on this understanding, on the one hand our two governments are building a free trade zone to continually deepen our cooperation on trade and investment. On the other, we are creating a new history of friendly exchanges on culture and language.

With increased interest from Chinese people in 'Middle Earth', cooperation between the two countries in the fields of film and television, tourism, education, aviation and culture have also gained significant traction. Cultural exchanges have promoted growth in trade of services and vice versa.

In 2010, our two countries signed a film co-production agreement, with New Zealand becoming the first country to sign an inter-governmental agreement of this type with China. In 2014, during President Xi Jinping's visit, New Zealand became the first country to sign an inter-governmental television co-production agreement with China.

Since then, the reality TV show Where Are We Going, Dad and the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2 have been filmed in New Zealand. The first co-produced film Beast of Burdon is currently being made, and filming will commence shortly on the first television co-production The Colours of China.

As New Zealand's second largest source of overseas tourists, the number of Chinese tourists to New Zealand in 2015 hit 356,000, an increase of 34.4 per cent. China also ranks as New Zealand's largest source of overseas students with approximately 60,000 students currently studying in New Zealand. Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines have commenced direct flights into Auckland and Christchurch.

Chinese is now the second foreign language taught in primary and secondary schools in New Zealand. In September last year, the first Chinese Language Week organised by a western country was launched in New Zealand which has served as an important new bridge for language exchange between two countries. Furthermore, the China Cultural Centre was opened last December, providing a new platform for New Zealanders to understand Chinese culture.

The unceasing broadening of cooperation between China and New Zealand across a range of fields is indicative of the comprehensive nature of the bilateral relationship, and are in line with the direction of China's economic restructuring.

China's economic focus on 'consumption over investment' and 'tertiary over secondary industry' is becoming increasingly apparent. In accordance with the 13th Five-Year Plan, China will create a powerful new economic engine by following the five development concepts of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared policies - and by continuing efforts to promote innovation driven development and the promotion of mass entrepreneurship.

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China will adhere to the strategy of opening-up that focuses on mutual wins. The 'One Belt and One Road' initiative is based on broad consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Significant results have been achieved in the two years since the initiative was proposed. Whilst a Chinese initiative, it presents an opportunity for the world.

New Zealand was the first western country to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seizing opportunities to continue to maintain its position as a leader amongst western nations in the development of bilateral relations with China.

John, Bronagh and Max Key arrived in China. Photo / Barry Soper
John, Bronagh and Max Key arrived in China. Photo / Barry Soper

From April 17 to 22, New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, accompanied by his wife and son and a large business delegation, will undertake his fifth official visit to China. During the visit, Prime Minister Key will meet with Chinese leaders to plan for the future development of bilateral relations, relevant agencies from two countries will sign a series of cooperation agreements, including some joint film and television cooperation projects.

The New Zealand Government will host an inaugural New Zealand Film Festival, which will debut the masterpieces of New Zealand films. Prime Minister Key will also make his first visit to Xi An, the new starting point of the Silk Road Economic Belt, to promote the alignment of bilateral development strategies.

Across the oceans, 'Middle Kingdom' and 'Middle Earth' will grip our hands more tightly together, increasing the richness of the China - New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership, and creating more benefits for our people.

Wang Lutong is the Chinese ambassador to New Zealand.

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