New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre

40th Anniversary of the Establishment of New Zealand-China Diplomatic Relations

Date: 5 September 2012
Venue: Legislative Council Chamber - Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Organised by: Jointly organised with the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

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Prof Pat Walsh, Vice Chancellor at Victoria University introduced the keynote speaker, Rt Hon John Key. The Prime Minister’s speech traversed the wide range of achievements of the first 40 years of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China, covering politics, trade, investment, people-to-people exchanges and cooperation agreements. The Prime Minister ended by stating, “I am confident that, with all of your support, we will continue to see New Zealand’s relationship with China go from strength to strength over the coming years”. Watch the Opening and Keynote Speech...

Panel One: The NZ-China Partnership: 40 years of Politics and Diplomacy 

The keynote speech was followed by the first panel, The NZ-China Partnership: 40 years of Politics and Diplomacy. Rt Hon Sir Don McKinnon, Chair of the recently formed New Zealand China Council, introduced the panel and speakers. Chris Elder, Former New Zealand Ambassador to China, provided a unique perspective on the early years of the relationship before putting forward four home truths: first, that New Zealand knowledge of China is better but not yet sufficient and we will have to work very hard to grow that knowledge; second, that it is a mistake to think we could have a purely transactional relationship; third, that the idea New Zealand has a ‘special relationship’ is a fallacy but New Zealand does have special attributes to bring to the relationship due to smallness; fourth,  that China’s importance is not just growing for New Zealand but for the whole world meaning we will have to work harder to keep our position.

Prof Han Feng, Deputy Director, National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was the second speaker. His speech focussed on the political, economic, social and cultural achievements over the 40 year period and the factors promoting a strong relationship. A concise summary of Chinese foreign policy provided the framework for understanding New Zealand’s place in the Chinese world view and for understanding China’s foreign policy to New Zealand. Looking to the future, Prof Han Feng outlined a series of initiatives for deepening cooperation in regional organisation, in industry cooperation ‘beyond trade’, in investment and in cooperation efforts that make use of New Zealand’s mature system of governance.

Three panellists then commented on the presentations: Hon Phil Goff, Member of Parliament and Labour Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson; Dr Jian Yang, Member of Parliament, National Party; Peter Harris, Senior Fellow, Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University and former Ford Foundation Representative in China. The comments focussed on the establishment of China’s first Free Trade Agreement with an OECD country, the importance of the political relationship with China and the significance of China’s rise for New Zealand and the world.

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Panel Two: The Social Impact: Migration, Education and Culture 

The second panel, The Social Impact: Migration, Education and Culture, was chaired by Prof Brian Moloughney, Pro Vice Chancellor of Humanities at the University of Otago. The first speaker was Prof Manying Ip, Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Auckland. She illustrated to the audience the changing makeup of the New Zealand population and explained the challenge of building an inclusive New Zealand identity where ‘Asians’ are accepted as New Zealanders. Prof Ip showed how ‘Chineseness’ has long been misunderstood and juxtaposed as the opposite of New Zealand culture. With the rapidly changing nature of the New Zealand population and growing links throughout Asia, Chinese social capital is contributing more and more to New Zealand life.

Michael Stedman, Managing Director of Natural History New Zealand, responded as the first panellist by exploring the importance of building relationships in China on the basis of trust and respect. This was illustrated through his own experience in China. Stedman then critiqued the level of knowledge of China in New Zealand and the paucity of coverage of events in China in the New Zealand media. Stedman asked if there was still a touch of xenophobia and lamented the situation where the New Zealand public lack reliable information from which to assess China.

The second panellist, Liyang Ma, Manager at the Auckland Office of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, provided for the audience a firsthand account of coming to New Zealand from China and the challenges and achievements of becoming part of New Zealand life. This was followed by Charles Finny, Chair of Education New Zealand, who provided stories of his early years at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing before exploring the importance of increasing the sustainability of the Chinese education market in New Zealand.

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Panel Three: The Economic Relationship: Realising the Potential of the FTA 

After lunch, the third panel kicked off on The Economic Relationship: Realising the Potential of the FTA. Fran O’Sullivan, Columnist for the New Zealand Herald, chaired the panel. The first speaker, Tony Alexander, publisher of Growing with China and Chief Economist of the BNZ, began with a review of whether New Zealand was making the most of the 2008 free trade agreement. Alexander overviewed the export surge, compared it to Australia and broke down the figures to show where the major growth occurred. He concluded trade data could be interpreted either way but supplementary evidence of the work of New Zealand companies building long-term sustainable relationships in China suggest New Zealand businesses are making good use of the FTA.

Dr Ma Tao, Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, overviewed the importance of the free trade agreement to the growing bilateral trade and investment relationship. Dr Ma described the FTA as ‘a new starting point’ and overviewed the preferential treatments and clear mechanisms for dispute resolutions in the agreement.  This was accompanied by clear statistical data showing the growth of the bilateral trade and investment relationship.

Four panellists responded to the speakers: Richard Yan, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Richina Group of Companies; John Penno, Chief Executive Officer of Synlait Milk Ltd; Jamie Tuuta, Maori Trustee; Girol Karacaoglu, Chief Economist and Deputy Secretary of The Treasury. Panellist comments included a critique that businesses haven’t leveraged the FTA as much as they should have, that there is a need for a brand New Zealand and that doing business in China is actually relatively straight forward. On the investment side, debate about Chinese investment in New Zealand was covered in light of increasing Government and Maori messages promoting Chinese investment and about the importance of encouraging high quality investment. The panel finished with a brief discussion of how the challenge of signing a comprehensive FTA with China that included dairy products was achieved and how China has become a priority relationship for New Zealand.

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Panel Four: Where to from here? New Challenges for New Zealand and China 

The final panel, Where to from here? New Challenges for New Zealand and China, was chaired by Tony Browne, Chair of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre and Former Ambassador to China. Prof Li Xuesong, Deputy Director of the Institute of Quantitative and Technical Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spoke first on forecasting the Chinese economy. Prof Li asked, ‘can China maintain its growth rate?’ Five factors were identified as having positive and negative impacts on China’s future growth: the decrease in population growth (negative); urbanization (positive); research and development (positive); expenditure in education (positive); global economic environment (negative). Prof Li then outlined three scenarios (optimistic, baseline and pessimistic) on a number of measures (GDP, investment, consumption, exports/imports) over the period 2011 to 2025. The results showed that while export growth would likely drop away, consumption and investment growth would drive an average GDP growth rate of 7.6% per annum. This would make China the largest economy by 2017 (PPPs) or in exchange rate figures, approaching both the US and the EU by 2025. Boosting urbanization and carrying out reform in the financial sector to boost R&D and investment in education was argued as key to China meeting the 7% growth projection.

Colin James, political journalist and analyst and senior associate of the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University, then overviewed what he described as the core foreign policy task for New Zealand over the next few decades—managing China. A choice between a close alignment with the US and Aust. and a more independent foreign policy was put forward and the need to remain agile, innovative and active in order to be an ‘honest broker’ and win friends in Southeast Asia was stressed. James than concluded with a series of hard questions on what the rise of China will mean for New Zealand over the next few decades.

Three panellists responded: Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor for The Australian; Rob Morrison, Former Chairman and CEO of Hong Kong–based CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets; Prof Robert Ayson, Professor of Strategic Studies and Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. The responses compared New Zealand’s relations with China to Australia’s and noted the significance of the growth of China even for those companies that do not directly engage with Chinese businesses. The implication of the rise of China for New Zealand was discussed not only as an economic opportunity but also in relation to existing relationships in the Asia-Pacific.

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Brian Lynch, Director of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and Prof Zhu Feng, Deputy Director of the Center for International & Strategic Studies (CISS) at Peking University, summarised the discussions of the day and made concluding remarks. This was followed by a reception hosted by John Hayes MP where Ambassador XU Jianguo commented on the 40th Anniversary of the Establishment of New Zealand-China Diplomatic Relations.

The New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre, the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences are planning a companion conference in Beijing at the end of the year.


  • The NZ/China Partnership: 40 years of politics and diplomacy
  • The Social Impact: migration, education and culture
  • The economic relationship: realising the potential of the FTA
  • Where to from here? New challenges for NZ and China

Download the programme below with details of speakers and schedule.

Document File size File type
Symposium programme 912 KB PDF

The Symposium concluded with a reception hosted by Mr John Hayes MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee.

Symposium Organisers

New Zealand Institute of International Affairs is an independent non-government organisation which seeks to promote discussion and understanding of international issues that affect New Zealand.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is an Associate Member Institution of the New Zealand Contemporary China Centre. It is the highest academic research organisation in the fields of philosophy and social sciences as well as a national centre for comprehensive studies in the PRC.

Symposium Sponsors

The Symposium organisers express their gratitude to the following generous sponsors (in alphabetical order):