If appearances count, the Prime Minister has made a successful trip to China. Jacinda Ardern could hardly have put her recent global acclaim to better use than to give China a signal of how much this country values the trading relationship.

China would like it to be more than a trading relationship and for that reason it was probably a good thing that this time New Zealand's Prime Minister was not accompanied by the usual retinue of company executives looking for opportunities in the world's second largest economy where political status still opens doors.

This was a political repair mission made necessary by the coalition Government's mishandling of the relationship in its first year of office. Too much of the country's foreign policy was left in the hands of NZ First. Speeches by Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Defence Minister Ron Mark last year sided too much with the United States at a time of tension between the Trump Administration and China.


Then there was the Huawei decision, which was made by the Government Communications Security Bureau not by the Cabinet, we are told. China had difficulty believing that, understandably. If the GCSB determination on Huawei's security risk did not need the Government's approval something was amiss. A decision with such obvious implications for an important foreign relationship ought to have been handled more adroitly.

In Beijing on Monday President Xi Jinping told the Prime Minister, "Our two sides must trust each other". That is a message we must take to heart. Trust does not mean closing our eyes to possible risks but it means we should look for evidence of a threat rather than assume one is there.

China is a monolithic state where ruling Communist Party controls every level of government and every sector of the economy. It is a nuclear-armed superpower and makes many of the world's consumer goods. Xi is more autocratic than any leader of China since Mao Tse Tung and is asserting China's external interests more strongly. But he is doing so in proper ways, through diplomacy and development aid, notably the "belt and road" infrastructure schemes.

The US is warning that Chinese aid serves a nefarious purpose in small countries such as our Pacific neighbours but we should not simply accept those warnings and parrot them as Peters did in a speech in Washington DC in December. Likewise, with Huawei. Based in China it may be vulnerable to pressure to give China's Government access to the communications and operating systems of other countries using Huawei technology, but among our Five Eyes intelligence partners Britain thinks the risk can be mitigated.

China has been a superpower for a long time and it has not flexed its muscle much further than the South China Sea to which it has an historic claim. It has earned some trust from countries that need and value its huge market. Our Government now needs to show the Prime Minister's one-day visit was not a one-day wonder.