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Little change seen in NZ's China ties

By KARL WILSON in Sydney | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-10-15 08:35

With poll days away, importance of trade is shared view among parties

New Zealand's election will hardly change the main course of the country's relationship with China despite some challenging moments during the year, analysts said ahead of the poll on Saturday.

Stephen Jacobi, a longtime China analyst and executive director of the New Zealand International Business Forum, said that no matter who wins, he does not expect to see a major shift in New Zealand-China relations.

Opinion polls put Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party well ahead of the National Party led by Judith Collins.

Foreign policy has hardly figured at all in the election, Jacobi said. "Both Labour and National can be expected to continue to manage the relationship with care and diplomacy, especially given the importance of trade in the economic recovery post-COVID."

He added that geopolitical tensions are likely to overshadow the relationship and both countries will need to commit themselves to talking directly about things that matter to both.

The executive director of the New Zealand-China Council, Rachel Maidment, agrees.

"While we have different perspectives on some issues, these continue to be managed well," she said.

Given countries' particular histories, political and legal systems, and world views, she said it is natural for countries to take different perspectives on some issues.

Yet she doubted there will be any change in New Zealand policy toward China after the election.

"New Zealand has maintained an independent foreign policy for over 30 years. Both major parties have a long-standing bipartisan approach to the bilateral relationship and this is unlikely to change after the election," Maidment said.

Catherine Beard, executive director for ExportNZ, said: "I don't think it would matter too much who wins as to how the China-NZ relationship will be in the future because, despite any political posturing, there is not a lot of differences between the National or Labour party when it comes to trade policy and international relationships."

She said both major parties know that China is a very important trade partner to New Zealand and value the relationship highly.

"Both major parties (Labour and National) would also reserve the right to have a New Zealand perspective on world issues, so there may be times where they would respectfully agree to disagree, as would be the case with any country."

Beard said she does not think any of the areas of agreement or disagreement would be a surprise to China and that New Zealand's policy on international relations is reasonably transparent and predictable.

Recovering from COVID-19

"I think it is probably true to say that either political party would take the view that a small country needs to try to be friends to everyone where that is possible and to promote and support a fair rules-based system such as the WTO (World Trade Organization), so that any country can get justice if they need it, no matter what their size," she said.

"I also think as the world tries to recover from the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 that good trade and political relationships will be more important than ever."

As of Tuesday, New Zealand had 1,516 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths, according to a tally kept by the World Health Organization.

While the National Party is struggling, it is trying to win over voters with tax cuts and attacking Ardern for not delivering on her pledges. With just days before voters go to the polls, none of this has had any impact on Ardern's popularity.

Ardern, 40, came to power just three years ago, having inherited the Labour leadership just two months before the 2017 election.

Grant Robertson, the Labour Party's finance spokesperson, said in a tweet on Wednesday that the National Party had had three leaders in four months while New Zealand at this moment needs a strong, decisive and stable government.

A Bloomberg report even said that there is a chance Labour could win an outright majority, which no party in New Zealand has done since the 1990s.

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