Key Points:

PM Helen Clark has received a red carpet welcome at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing today.

Premier Wen Jiabao greeted Helen Clark at the entrance to the Great Hall in front of officials and trade negotiators from both sides.

The Premier and Clark shook hands with the leading negotiators and dignitaries from New Zealand including trade minister Phil Goff and education minister Chris Carter, and Clark's husband Professor Peter Davis.

When the pair sat down to begin their formal bilateral discussion, Premier Wen praised Clark's "far sightedness" in closing a free trade agreement with China.

Wen said three of the "four firsts" were achieved under Clark's leadership (NZ finalising a WTO agreement with China, recognising China as a market economy, being the first OECD country to open free trade negotiations with China, and signing the deal today) and "were achieved your leadership," Wen said.

He said it was an historic day for NZ-China relations: "I congratulate you for that, it means you are a forerunner in your business and economic relationship with China."

He predicted the relationship would deepen over time.

The pair will emerge soon to observe the signing ceremony, within the next 15 minutes (3.30pm NZT)

The Prime Minister said she would raise the issue of the Chinese authorities' response to the unrest in Tibet in a separate one hour tete a tete with Premier Wen Jiabao.

The Chinese authorities had apparently made Tibet an agenda item for the bilateral talks even before the recent spate of protests over China's administration of the autonomous region emerged.

Wen can be expected to strenuously advocate China's position and appeal to Clark to not exert judgement until she has "all the facts."

The Prime Minister is likely to appeal to China to enter a dialogue with the Dalai Lama - something the Clark Government has been doing for some time.

The Dalai Lama said on Sunday that protests in Tibet and nearby provinces had disproven Chinese "propaganda" about unrest in the region, adding the situation could no longer be "neglected".

The exiled spiritual leader wants an independent international probe into the unrest.

"The recent protests all over Tibet have not only contradicted but also shattered the People's Republic of China's propaganda that except for a few 'reactionaries', the majority of Tibetans enjoy a prosperous and contented life," the Dalai Lama said in a statement released from his home in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala.

Western media in Beijing are now attack for their coverage of the Tibetan unrest.

The state-sponsored China Daily hit out at journalists and Amnesty International for 'China bashing'."

The authorities are deeply worried that the Tibetan unrest will take the gloss off the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

Trade Minister Phil Goff stressed the NZ side would raise human rights issues during the visit, but this would take place during a wider discussion between the two premiers.

"It will encompass regional issues and human rights issues as these things normally do.

"But of course it will focus first and foremost on the significance of this free trade agreement,."

The deal will also include binding statements on labour and environmental rights - which is a step up from the statements contained in New Zealand's earlier free trade deal with Thailand.

Clark expects the deal to create significant global interest as it comes at a time of major markets volatility. She inadvertently let the cat out of the bag when briefing journalists last night saying that people would be surprised at how far reaching the FTA is. "For a New Zealand export trade of close to $2 billion to have tariffs remaining on only about $80 million of goods is a mind-boggling result."

Despite opposition from minor parties, the deal will not be able to be derailed.

Trade Minister Phil Goff said it had already been "signed up to" by the Cabinet and the Chinese State Council and he has 100 votes in Parliament to get the free trade legislation through.