The friendship pact between Northland Regional Council and China Railways Zhongji Holding Group has been signed and both parties are promising it will lead to local jobs and other benefits.
Heading the high level Chinese delegation to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Whangarei yesterday was Zhang Heping, the chief executive of the Chinese Government-owned railways and infrastructure company.
While the memorandum is strictly an explanation of each party's role and expectations, it also hints of a more expansive future relationship.
Through an interpreter, Mr Zhang said China Railways respected the process and understood the need for the MoU before the company went looking for "infrastructure co-projects" with local businesses.
Mr Zhang said emphatically there had been no "under the table negotiations" with any Northland parties and that China Railways followed New Zealand contractual procedures and diplomacy at every level.
He was referring to speculation raised several weeks ago by Northland MP and NZ First leader Winston Peters that a "secret" MoU had already been signed, containing the makings of a public/private Northland highway and/or rail link building deal.
During the pre-signing addresses, council chairman Bill Shepherd described the MoU as a "win-win situation".
He said he hoped the council would be able to "connect" China Railway Zhongji to some private enterprises behind local projects, for mutual benefit but particularly for Northland.
"Northland really does have so many opportunities, including its proximity to Auckland. The region's attributes include its natural beauty and climate, and the deepest natural port in the Southern Hemisphere," Mr Shepherd said.
"As a council, we expect that as this relationship grows we'll identify some emerging opportunities for Northland."
Referring to the recent visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Wellington, he likened the MoU to an extension on a regional level to the national understandings being forged between New Zealand and China.
Mr Zhang said this was his first visit to Northland and he was impressed with the friendly people and the scenery.
He said he had already seen "strong infrastructural local business opportunities".
But Mr Zhang also said he was pleased to reach this point as, "since we began this process, progress has been slow".
The MoU was first mooted nearly a year ago.
"We hope to be able to move ahead now. We are also looking at local products we might be interested in exporting to China.
"We are hoping to get local people involved in our future projects. We want to contribute to local job growth and use local resources for that."