China’s choice of ambassador to New Zealand points to focus on deepening economic ties | New Zealand – Community News
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China’s choice of ambassador to New Zealand points to focus on deepening economic ties | New Zealand

A China’s new ambassador who has previously worked on the country’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has arrived in New Zealand, sparking speculation that Beijing plans to focus on deepening economic ties with New Zealand. Zealand as the two countries face growing diplomatic challenges.

Wang Xiaolong, who replaced former ambassador Wu Xi, previously served as director general of the international economic affairs department of China’s foreign ministry. In that role, Wang helped oversee the BRI — which aims to deepen economic ties between China and other countries and is a key focus of President Xi Jinping.

The initiative has sparked some skepticism from world governments, especially those in the west, about Beijing’s motives, with claims that the BRI is largely an influence operation. In December, the EU announced Global Gateway, a €300 billion project in infrastructure spending to counter the BRI.

Wang appears to be more of a peacemaker than the group of “wolf warriors” diplomats in other foreign posts. In October, he said some decoupling between the US and China was inevitable, especially on the tech front. He called on China to recognize not only the US challenge but its own growing strength and “the rise of our influence and power to shape the global narrative”.

Given Wang’s background, discussions about New Zealand’s involvement in the BRI could grow, said Dr Jason Young, director of the Contemporary China Research Center at Victoria University, who noted that the economic relationship between the two “held up very well.” compared to some other countries”.

There was some New Zealand interest in the BRI under the centre-right national government of former Prime Minister John Key. In 2017, China and New Zealand signed a “memorandum of understanding” to develop a New Zealand engagement plan.

That commitment, however, stalled after the election of a Labor-New Zealand First coalition in 2017, which took a more skeptical view of the BRI amid reports of “debt trap diplomacy”, with some poorer countries lending Chinese for BRI projects could not repay .

Last year, Wellington indicated its willingness to partner with China on “mutually beneficial” BRI projects with an emphasis on the environment. What that means is not yet clear.

Young said New Zealand-China relations have also come under strain as a result of China’s “much more illiberal” tendencies in recent years, including economic coercion from Australia and repressive policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

These challenges prompted New Zealand to criticize China louder than before. It has occasionally joined criticism of China from the more aggressive Anglosphere nations of Australia, the United States, Canada and the UK.

The government has expressed concern that this could lead to trade repercussions. In a 2021 interview with The Guardian, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta warned exporters to prepare for a potential “storm” of anger from China.

New Zealand officials have also become more cautious about the implications of growing Chinese aggression for the Indo-Pacific and New Zealand itself. A recent report from New Zealand’s Ministry of Defense warned the country is facing “a considerably more challenging environment”, in part due to China’s “increasing nationalist narrative”.

Despite these challenges, New Zealand’s relationship with China remains relatively stable, Young said. “If I were a guessing man, I would suggest [Wang’s] focus will be on maintaining the relationship, in the sense of not having such a deterioration [which] we saw in Australia”.

On the other side of Tasman, government action over Chinese political and economic interference sparked diplomatic conflict between the two countries, with China imposing significant tariffs on some Australian exports. Recent Australian opinion polls show that 60% of Australians view China as a security risk.

The Chinese embassy in New Zealand has been contacted for comment.

Additional reporting by Helen Davidson