Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has received an official welcome to Beijing with a guard of honour in the Great Hall of the People before holding talks with Premier Li Keqiang.

When the two sat down for talks, Li expressed his condolences from China over the act of terrorism in Christchurch.

He wished the injured a speedy recovery.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opens the new New Zealand embassy in Beijing during her 24 hour visit to China. Photo / Audrey Young
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opens the new New Zealand embassy in Beijing during her 24 hour visit to China. Photo / Audrey Young

He said the relationship with New Zealand has sustained momentum and steady growth.

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"Before you came here you expressed how much importance your country gave to relationships with China and we want to defend our comprehensive strategic partnership and I know this is also the wish of New Zealand," he said.

"We attach high importance to our relations with New Zealand and we are ready to strengthen our relationship on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit."

He wanted to expand practical co-operation and people-to-people exchanges.

He wanted to seek the broadest possible common ground in shared interests "and I hope the business communities of both countries enjoy a more enabling and more transparent environment when they make investments or do business in each other's markets."

Jacinda Ardern thanked Li for the condolences.

She broke with tradition while on Government business and talked up the role of the Labour Party in having advanced relations with China.

She cited former Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk in recognising China in 1972 and former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark signing a free trade agreement in 2008.

She said she had wanted to come to China "to underline the importance that we place on our relationship with China".

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"It is one of our most important and far reaching relationships, a point I have made in my public speeches over the past year.

"The New Zealand Labour Party in particular is really proud of the record of engagement that we have with China."

Ardern, right, holds a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, second left, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo / AP
Ardern, right, holds a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, second left, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo / AP

She told reporters before the meeting she planned to discuss the issue of Huawei with Li.

The last time Ardern met Li was in Singapore in mid November, two weeks before the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) gave a red light to Huawei's involvement in Spark's 5G plans.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after inspecting an honour guard during a welcome ceremony. Photo / AP
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after inspecting an honour guard during a welcome ceremony. Photo / AP

It was also before the GCSB joined other Five Eyes partners in December in naming the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) as being central to a global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft.

Also high on the agenda are the ongoing negotiations to upgrade the 2008 free trade agreement, aspects of which have left New Zealand worse off in terms of tariffs and access to key Chinese sectors than other countries that negotiated FTAs more recently.

It has been making slow progress. After the initial decision in 2014 to address an upgrade, the first round of talks was not held until April 2017.

Ardern speaks during a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo / AP
Ardern speaks during a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo / AP
Ardern, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People. Photo / AP
Ardern, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People. Photo / AP

The Great Hall of the People is on the edge of Tiananmen Square. It was built in 1959, 10 years after the founding of the People's Republic of China. It is used for ceremonial and state occasions, including the annual meeting of about 3000 members of the National People's Congress.

WHO IS LI KEQIANG?

• Aged 63, Li is China's Premier, effectively No 2 to President Xi Jinping but with responsibility for the operations of Government.
• Became secretary of the Communist Youth League while studying law at Peking University, then got a PhD in economics.
• Former Governor of Henan province and party secretary in Liaoning.
• A prodigee of former President Hu Jintao, he and Xi were rivals to succeed him, but Xi won out in 2013.
• Driving force behind China's establishing of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, signed up to by New Zealand.
• Visited New Zealand in 2017.

WHO IS XI JINPING?

• Aged 65, China's president, the son of Communist Party luminary, Xi Zhongxun.
• Joined Communist Party in 1974
• Married to Madam Peng Liyuan, formerly a famous singer with the Peoples Liberation Army.
• Studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University, Beijing
• Became Shanghai Party Secretary in 2007; Vice-President 2008; Vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission 2010; General Secretary of Communist Party 2012; President of China and chairman of Central Military Commission 2013.
• Oversaw abolition of two-term limit on presidency last year and continues a more assertive stance on internal dissent and foreign policy.
• Encouraging Mao-like status with his own views being referenced in the constitution, namely "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialist Economy with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era"