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High Level Chinese Visitor Gets The Softly Softly

High Level Chinese Visitor Gets The Softly Softly Treatment


By Lou Garvey

Scoop followers will no doubt be pleased to know that New Zealand’s views on Pacific Island administrative instability and the developing situation on the Korean Peninsula have drawn an extremely high level Chinese response.

Present in New Zealand today for talks with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister is the seventh ranking member of the Chinese Government, Mr Li Chang Chun.

That he is no lightweight Chinese envoy is reflected in his title – Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Politbureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

It is a mark of changing times that 50 years ago the thought that such a figure would be in New Zealand for discussions would be unthinkable. At that time New Zealand had soldiers on the Korean Peninsula fighting North Korean and Chinese troops.

Today, Mr Li Chang Chun is an honoured guest – to be hosted at dinner by the Speaker of our Parliament Jonathon Hunt who will have in attendance not only the Minister of Foreign Affairs but also the Minister of Police George Hawkins.

The days may have passed when acerbic London Times far eastern correspondent Richard Hughes referred to such an eminent person as a “commie dog” but the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Politbureau is no less influential than in the days of Chairman Mao Tse Tung. He is travelling on a Chinese Boeing 747 and is being accompanied by what are described as very senior vice-ministers and officials.

His economic views will no doubt be in line with the policy tunes played by capitalist roader Deng Xiaoping in reshaping communist party philosophies toward more market and less communal approaches.

The key questions confronted by Kiwi foreign minister Phil Gough are whether China is supportive of New Zealand’s intervention with Australia in the Solomons and can China help avoid a new conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

Secrecy that has surrounded the visit by the Politbureau Standing Committee Chairman suggests the discussions will, or have not been, light in tone.

Asian-Pacific political atmospherics are changing. The environment in the South Pacific and in north Asia can no longer be called “benign”.

The role that China will play in handling these developing situations will be of high importance, if not crucial in the case of North Korea. That New Zealand justifies a call by such a senior figure of the Chinese administration at this time might well be considered indicative of tensions not fully appreciated by the broader Kiwi public.

*************

- Lou Garvey is decades long China watcher and writer based in Wellington.

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