PM Chris Hipkins says business leaders “feel like they are knocking on open doors” as he wraps up a week-long trade visit to China.
Hipkins fronted media before boarding a plane back to New Zealand tonight.
NZ was the first Western country to visit China post-Covid. Hipkins said he felt it spoke to the strength of the relationship between the countries.
NZ had been “ready, enthusiastic and keen” to visit China and it had always been a priority for Hipkins.
Having access to “the top three” in terms of political leaders in China was “very important” for business and economic relationships, Hipkins said.
There was also a lot of local media coverage in China of the visit. Te Whānau-ā-Āpanui kapa haka on the Great Wall this week was “going viral” in the country, he said.
It was “unprecedented” in terms of the number of companies represented on the trip and the cultural elements, he said.
“It has been very positive, all round.”
It was also an important trip to learn about emerging markets in China, such as the “emerging singles” with about 93 million single people in China.
He said there would be a “flow-on effect from the trip”.
“There is a huge market here for New Zealand ... the door is wide open.”
On visa issues, Hipkins said they were “well aware” and had sped up processing student and business visas. He acknowledged there remained issues around visitor visas.
Hipkins said travel logistics meant it was “unlikely” he would be able to visit Ukraine while in Europe in two weeks. But he was not ruling it out.
On current issues at home with Justice Minister Kiri Allan, Hipkins said none of them related to formal complaints.
They related to “some time ago” before he was PM. The chief executives involved have made it clear they were satisfied with how it was handled at the time.
He said it was “very difficult” to form judgments on anonymous complaints.
Chief executives were appropriate places for concerns to be raised. They could also then take those further to the Prime Minister’s office and/or the Parliamentary Services Commissioner. Hipkins said neither of those had happened.
Pressed on if any minister had raised concerns with him about Allan’s behaviour towards staff, Hipkins said: “I am not going to relay every conversation I have with ministers publicly.”
On the fuel tax resumption after tonight, Hipkins said he acknowledged it won’t be “welcome” for Kiwi households filling up the tank but it was money needed to build and maintain roads.
Through the Budget they had found more targeted ways to provide support.
“It is a very expensive policy. We continued it for as long as we can financially.”
‘I would happily stay here for longer’
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told Chinese Communist Party Secretary Chen Jining, a top official in Shanghai, he wished he could stay in China longer before catching a plane back to New Zealand tonight.
“I would happily stay here for longer and I hope to come again soon,” Hipkins said.
It was a polite, throwaway comment at the end of a busy day of meetings and trade events focused on selling New Zealand products to China.
It is easy to see why Hipkins wanted to stay. He has had a successful week in China, securing meetings with the top three ranks of the Chinese political system. It’s also easy to see why Hipkins may be reluctant to return home and walk into the unfolding storm around his Cabinet minister Kiri Allan.
The visit has been covered well in the Chinese state press, a good sign in a political system where political preferment often begets trade advantage.
Hipkins said he believed the publicity generated by his trip had been good for businesses.
“Just the overall level of publicity that is generated by a New Zealand Prime Minister visiting China - New Zealand businesses really benefit from that,” he said.
It’s been a gruelling voyage for Hipkins, who joked to Chen that New Zealand is so far away from most other countries Kiwis tend to jam their schedules full of events when they travel. He used this to explain why he got up at 4 in the morning to fly to Shanghai at 6am.
Chen appeared to find this amusing, urging Hipkins to catch a more humanely timed flight the next time he visits.
“Do not catch that 6am flight,” Chen said.
The meeting itself was a win for Hipkins. Chen has a reputation for only meeting the likes of Fortune 500 bosses, like Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, whom he met in May this year.
Chen’s role is a significant one, and the people who hold the office often end up in high places.
The previous Party Secretary was Li Qiang, currently Premier, whom Hipkins met on Wednesday. In 2007, the role was held by a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping. The job saw him elevated to the frontline of Chinese politics. Five years later, he was President.
Building a good relationship with the incumbent could stand New Zealand in good stead in years to come.
Chen and Hipkins discussed the fact that Shanghai is bringing local trade standards, which it administers in a devolved way, up to CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) standards.
China wants to join the CPTPP, of which New Zealand is a founding member. But it remains to be seen whether China can meet the standards to accede to the pact.
China joining would also require the support of other members, which is by no means guaranteed.
On Friday, Hipkins’ last day in China is centred around events promoting New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra.
Hipkins began his day in Shanghai at the Baoshan Museum, which hosts the enormous Te Waharoa taonga made of 3500-year-old kauri wood and gifted to China in 2010.
The travelling delegation, including the Te Matatini champions, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, acknowledged the museum for its guardianship of the taonga.
Te Whānau-ā-Apanui has been lauded in Beijing and now Shanghai, popping up on Chinese social media.
Hipkins said the group had represented New Zealand well on the trip.
“They’ve certainly made me proud to be a Kiwi,” he said.
Tourism Minister Peeni Henare said he believed kapa haka brought “great value to a trade delegation wherever it goes”.
When asked whether Te Whānau-ā-Apanui had been the showstoppers on the trip, Henare replied, “It’s very hard to steal the show from the Prime Minister”.
Diplomatic to the last.
Thomas Coughlan is deputy political editor of the New Zealand Herald, which he joined in 2021. He previously worked for Stuff and Newsroom in their Press Gallery offices in Wellington. He started in the Press Gallery in 2018.