The Government looks set to step up its engagement in China's Belt and Road Initiative in a bid to improve relations - and despite earlier misgivings about it by Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

Ardern today confirmed that Economic Development Minister David Parker had been invited to take part in Beijing's second Belt and Road conference in April – and Parker said he hoped to take a trade mission to China at the same time.

And Ardern said conversations were ongoing with China about infrastructure projects.
Parker said his officials had discussed the conference with Ambassador Wu Xi on Monday.

Belt and Road is a term for Beijing's infrastructure projects and economic activity in other countries launched five years ago by President Xi Jinping.


Despite criticism that it has left many states with massive debt to China, National signed a memo with Premier Li Keqiang in 2017 for a commitment to work out some projects that would fit under its umbrella.

Its reasoning was that while it had not been successful everywhere, it was extremely important to China and New Zealand could find projects that were beneficial to both.

The Coalition Government ostensibly assigned a Foreign Affairs official to negotiate a plan with China but almost half-way through the term, nothing has come of it and when questioned about it, Peters has repeatedly said he was waiting for his counterpart Wang Yi to explain it to him.

It has effectively been on ice or at the very least given a low priority.

At a reception on Monday held by the NZ – China Council, at which Madam Wu was present, MFAT deputy Secretary Ben King also mentioned that work on the Belt and Road was continuing.

Wu thanked the NZ – China Council for a report on the Belt and Road Initiative it released in May last year saying it had been well received by her Government and the public and private sector.

Chinese ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi thanked the NZ - China Council for its Belt and Road report. Photo / Supplied
Chinese ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi thanked the NZ - China Council for its Belt and Road report. Photo / Supplied

Ardern told reporters at Parliament today that it was important to develop a work programme in New Zealand and China's interests.

She did not know when the first agreed project would emerge but she said New Zealand was not alone.


"There's other countries who I would say that have been in the same boat," Ardern said. "There has been quite a bit of work to be done to flesh it out and that's what we are doing."
The memorandum signed by the previous Government had been very general and New Zealand had to find a mutually agreeable projects.

Asked if she would be open to some major infrastructure project involving China, Ardern said: "I'm not going to pre-determine the outcome of some of the conversations that are being had."

Responding to other comments by Wu on Monday, Ardern said New Zealand already had a resilient relationship with New Zealand.

"Ultimately we do have a mature relationship. I do believe we have a resilient one," Ardern said.

" That has been born out in some of the numbers around growth in our exports, growth in our people to people exchanges but from time to time these issues will arise and we have to make sure that we maintain our position without there being any panic at the edges of that."

Wu said New Zealand and China needed to build a more resilient relationship and handle difference properly to avoid "the rocks."

"When sailing through uncharted waters, it is vitally important to firmly hold the rudder, carefully steering through the rocks.

As two countries different in history, culture and social system, it is only natural for us to have differences. We need to properly handle these differences and build a more resilient bilateral relationship."

She did not mention the strains, or the largest irritant, the preliminary decision by the GCSB to ban Huawei from involvement in Spark's 5G plans.

But she said the development of China would provide more opportunities for New Zealand "and create broader space for our bilateral co-operation."