The strong existing relationship between New Zealand and China can continue to grow as long as NZ stays out of internal Chinese politics, says Beijing's ambassador to NZ, Wu Xi.
Addressing some 500 delegates at the annual NZ-China Business Summit in Auckland – one of the first major conferences to be held since the covid-19 lockdown – Wu made it clear that China was not interested in being lectured by other countries on its own affairs.
Her speech coincides with rapidly worsening relations between China and the United States and with NZ's closest ally and second largest trading partner, Australia, brought on by trade protectionism and diplomatic and security tensions.
"We should not take our relationship for granted," she said, addressing the conference immediately after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Trade Minister David Parker. "We should make sure that our bilateral relations are immune from various virus in these trying times.
It was essential that both countries committed to "practical cooperation and respect for each others' core interests and accommodation of each other's major concerns."
"Instead of trying to change or remodel the other, we respect each other," said Wu. "As comprehensive strategic partners, China and NZ should continue to maintain strategic commitment in difficult times and support each other on issues on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"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," she said.
Relations are fine
Ardern had said earlier that while the NZ-China relationship was "in good shape", NZ would continue to express its views on Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.
Doing so was "important to who we are as NZers" and that differences of opinion were "normal and should not define our relationship."
NZ is finding itself increasingly squeezed between the interests of its traditional western allies and the importance of the Chinese trading relationship and Pacific diplomatic and security issues.
In a clear reference to these tensions, Wu said "the future lies in cooperation rather than confrontation."
"Pursuing a zero sum game and portraying others as enemies will lead nowhere and will only harm common interests. No matter how the international situation may evolve, China will remain committed to a path of peaceful development."
The US has recently ramped up its rhetoric on China's creation of naval bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea and Taiwan, which is independent but not widely internationally recognised, earlier this month held war games simulating repulsion of a mainland Chinese invasion.
NZ is also now the only member of the 'Five Eyes' western signals intelligence-sharing alliance not to have explicitly banned the use of Chinese-made Huawei telecommunications equipment in the rollout of 5G internet services.
Wu urged deeper trade relations with NZ, saying the upgrade of the free trade agreement between the two countries should be expanded in high quality foods, and health and aged care.
Answering questions from the floor, Parker said NZ would view an application by China to join the CPTPP Asia-Pacific trade and investment pact favourably.
Wu called for the rapid conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, sometimes characterised as a rival agreement, "as soon as possible."
Parker said it was likely to be completed this year, but without including the huge, highly protected Indian market.