Former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon has been chosen to lead the New Zealand China Council.

The council will play a big role in the Government's drive to strengthen the bilateral relationship between New Zealand and China which has recently come under pressure through opposition to Chinese businesses acquiring Kiwi farms.

A new China BeachHeads board headed by Hong Kong-based businessman Alex Chu has also been appointed by NZ Trade and Enterprise to replace the board headed by Beijing-based investment firm head David Mahon, which resigned en masse after serious differences.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told the Business Herald the China Council would take the leadership role at the inaugural New Zealand China Partnership Forum to be held in Beijing during Prime Minister John Key's official visit this year.


The NZ China Council will focus on strengthening the bilateral relationship. It will have a broad role, unlike the NZ US Council which launched with a single focus to pursue a free trade agreement between New Zealand and the United States.

"We need a body to bring together not just the business leaders and political leaders across the parties but also academics and cultural leaders," says McCully. "It is important to China that we do have a relationship across many facets."

McKinnon is understood to be canvassing other prospective council members including former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley, who is a director of the powerful China Construction Bank, Chinese entrepreneur Richard Yan and Michael Stedman of Natural History New Zealand, which is making documentaries for China's domestic television market, and KPMG's Tim White, who is the newly elected head of the NZ China Trade Association.

Gabrielle Rush has been sounded out to be the council's transitional executive director.

McKinnon served as deputy prime minster and foreign affairs minister in the Bolger National government; then went to London for eight years in his Commonwealth role.

Since returning to Auckland he has been chairman of the Transtasman Business Circle and is also chairman of Regional Facilities Auckland.

Trade and Enterprise has not made a great deal of fanfare over its new China BeachHeads board.

Last year's resignations were an embarrassment but it is understood that Trade and Enterprise boss Peter Chrisp and Mahon have since formed a cordial working relationship.


Chu - who specialises in trading, distribution and logistics businesses in Hong Kong, China and other Asian cities - had been singled out by Trade and Enterprise China manager Rod MacKenzie who had wanted him to replace Mahon as China BeachHeads' chairman before the resignations.

Chu is the founding chairman of Everbright Asia Pacific Investment. He is said to have a strong personal relationship with the Chinese Government and an extensive network in the food industry in China.

He is currently the member of the Mainland Business Advisory Committee of Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the vice-chairman of the Jiangmen Association of Enterprises with Foreign Investment, and the standing committee member of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Jiangmen.

Wigram Capital Advisors' Rodney Jones, who is a personal friend of Key, has also been appointed.

Based in Beijing since July 2010, Jones is a former managing director and partner with Soros Fund Management, heading the research office in Hong Kong from 1994-2000.

Before joining Soros Fund Management in 1994, Rodney Jones was a vice-president and economist with Bankers Trust Company in Singapore.

Other advisers include Jonathan Shearer, general manager China for Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Jeremy Sargent, managing partner JSA, and David Wang of Toong Yeuan Enterprise.