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New Zealand PM Visits China Amid Growing War Tensions

By Tom Peters

Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins carried out a six-day visit to China, aimed at strengthening trade and economic ties. He was accompanied by Trade Minister Damien O’Connor, Tourism Minister Peeni Henare and 29 business leaders.

Hipkins’ visit to China was the first by a New Zealand PM since 2019. It took place against a backdrop of escalating anti-China provocations from the United States and the raging US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, which US imperialism views as a first step towards war with China.

Washington is determined to maintain its status as the world’s hegemonic power, even if that means plunging the world into a war involving nuclear-armed countries. New Zealand and Australia, minor imperialist powers in the Pacific region, are viewed as important junior partners in the US war plans.

Summing up the conundrum facing New Zealand’s ruling elite, Radio NZ said “increasingly, the country is being asked to choose between its number one trading partner, China, and its traditional Western security allies. It’s no easy decision, considering China accounts for nearly 30 percent of this country’s total exports of goods and services.”

In a press release, Hipkins described the main aim of his China visit as boosting New Zealand’s exports of agricultural and other products, and to promote tourism and international education. In addition to trade, China was New Zealand’s “second-largest source of tourists… and is a significant source of international students, so it’s a critical part of our economic recovery,” Hipkins said. The New Zealand economy recently entered a recession and is highly exposed to the global downturn.

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In a statement which made international headlines, Hipkins told reporters on June 22 that he disagreed with Joe Biden’s comment branding Chinese president Xi Jinping “a dictator.” Hipkins said: “the form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people.”

Hipkins described his meeting with Xi last Tuesday as “warm and constructive conversation” and “at no point adversarial.” Xi, for his part, told a media conference that China viewed New Zealand as “a friend and a partner” and praised Hipkins for making clear “that you value Chinese-New Zealand relations and will continue to strengthen cooperation with China.” The countries’ relationship had “contributed to regional peace and stability and prosperity,” he said.

The New Zealand PM also received positive coverage in the Chinese media. The Global Times declared: “While some Western countries [are] following the US in containing China, New Zealand continues to strengthen stable economic and trade cooperation with China.”

Significantly, New Zealand’s main opposition National Party leader Chris Luxon told Radio NZ there was “strong bipartisan alignment” on foreign policy and he praised Hipkins’ visit to China as “very constructive.” He agreed with Hipkins’ decision not to call Xi a “dictator.”

The visit will be viewed with concern in Washington. Both Australia and the US are placing pressure on New Zealand to fall more decisively in line with war preparations which includes the AUKUS military pact, which will supply Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Anne-Marie Brady, a prominent US-aligned academic in New Zealand, told Radio NZ: “It really is very unsatisfactory that we have, still, such dependence on the China market, or perceived dependence, when we know there’s a really serious political risk.”

At the same time, however, Brady noted that “New Zealand is showing, with its actions, what its policy priorities are on security.” She said it was highly significant that Wellington hosted a two-day meeting of the US-led Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, which coincided with Hipkins’ meeting with Xi.

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