China’s foreign minister meets New Zealand counterpart, beginning trip that also includes Australia

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has begun a diplomatic tour of New Zealand and Australia, meeting with his counterpart Winston Peters and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon in Wellington. New Zealand has built strong economic ties with China. It was the first developed country to sign a bilateral free trade deal with Beijing, in 2008.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his New Zealand counterpart Monday, as China’s most senior diplomat began a tour of the country and Australia.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters greeted Wang in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital.

“There have been some significant developments since we last met, not least a global pandemic that impacted both our countries,” Peters said in his opening comments of their formal meeting at New Zealand’s parliament house.

“Today is a valuable opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that are now before us.”

Wang is the highest-ranking Chinese politician to visit the country since his own previous visit in 2017.

New Zealand has had strong economic ties with China in recent years, and was the first developed country to sign a bilateral free trade deal with Beijing in 2008.

While in Wellington, Wang will also have brief meetings with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Trade Minister Todd McClay.

“China looks forward to working with the two countries to deliver on the common understandings between the leaders, enhance strategic communication, deepen mutual trust, advance exchanges and co-operation, promote the steady and sustained growth of the China-New Zealand and China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnerships and contribute to world peace, stability and prosperity,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

Wang will arrive in Canberra, Australia on Wednesday to meet with counterpart Penny Wong, with dialogue between the pair expected to center on the case of detained Australian Yang Hengjun.

It will be the first time the two foreign ministers have met face to face since Yang was found guilty of espionage following a closed trial and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in February.

Also on the agenda will be the removal of the last-remaining trade tariffs that were imposed by China in 2020 and were widely regarded as punishment for the previous Australian government passing laws that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics, for barring Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns and for calling for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trade tariffs cost the local economy an estimated 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion), but have since been wound back on most goods except wine, rock lobsters and some abattoirs.