China’s Foreign Policy and China-NZ Relationship in a Changing World
H.E. Ambassador Wang Xiaolong Delivered a Speech at the New Zealand China Council
1 June 2022
Thank you for inviting me to the luncheon today. I am honored and, honestly, humbled to join such an impressive array of council members, which is a mirror image of the diverse and vibrant NZ society, and also of the rich and robust relationship between our two countries.
I would like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts with you on China’s foreign policy and our bilateral relationship in this rapidly and in some areas, drastically changing world. I have been advised to wrap all this up in 15 minutes. Not easy, but I will try.
Let me start with the fundamentals of China’s policy, including in particular our FOREIGN policy.
You may have heard of the two “Centennial Goals” set by the Chinese Communist Party and Government. The first such goal, which we have largely achieved, is to eradicate absolute poverty and build China into a “Xiaokang Society”, where Chinese people can lead reasonably good lives, by the one hundredth anniversary of the CCP in 2021. The second Centennial Goal is to elevate the level of overall development of China to that of a medium-level developed country to enable our people to enjoy a happy life of abundance and fulfillment by the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic around mid-century, bringing about the eventual Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation to realize what we call the Chinese Dream. In other, more mundane words, developing the country’s economy and improving people’s lives has been, and WILL BE the paramount goal for China. Everything else flows from there, as it defines the starting point and the overarching theme of ALL of our policies, including our foreign policy, the central aim of which is to create a peaceful and favourable external environment for economic development to take place and for the Chinese Dream to come true.
As much as we hope for peace in our world, the world today is hardly a very peaceful place. We have a saying in Chinese, the trees want to stay quiet, but the wind keeps on blowing. Our generation is witnessing some of the most drastic and even foundational changes in our world in post-war history, brought on by, in some cases, unsolicited, renewed great-power rivalry and the Covid-19 pandemic, and exacerbated by the Ukrainian situation more recently. As a result, uncertainties, risks and even outright dangers have risen significantly. What used to be out of the question whatsoever is somehow becoming not that inconceivable anymore.
While we focus on some of the most pressing issues of the moment, we must not lose sight of the fundamental challenges we face, and need to reflect on some of the larger lessons we might draw from what has transpired, to avoid knee-jerk reactions and sleep-walking out of control before it is too late.
Here are some of the lessons China has drawn.
First, our world is, STILL, very much interconnected. And more often than not, more closely and in more ways than some of us have sometimes realised. Like it or not, be it the pandemic, climate change, energy security, food security, or inflation and cost-of-living pressures or even crisis, or longer-term growth and sustainability, what happens in one part of the world would spill over into the rest. The narratives on decoupling, de-globalization or parallel systems neither reflect the realities, nor are they helpful. If anything, they lead to LESS rather than GREATER stability, robustness and resilience.
Second, competition, rivalry and confrontation between states or ideologies, power politics and military alliances are not the solutions to the problems of the world they purport to be. On the contrary, they are often the root causes of these problems or even the problems themselves. No real security and lasting peace can be secured through hegemony based on might is right or by making other countries insecure. In fact, history is in no scarcity of wars caused or aggravated by ill-conceived military alliances. Recent developments have again borne out the failure of military blocs to prevent conflicts from breaking out. And there will not be resolution to the current situation if one side attempts to triumph over the other on the battlefield. The only way out will be mutual compromise and accommodation, which can only be found at the negotiating table. Based on lessons from history that were learned the hard way but risk being forgotten, there is simply no other alternative. And framing the world as democracies versus autocracies is wrongheaded and dangerous. For it is a sure recipe for at least relapsing into the Cold War era, the consequences of which all of us are only too familiar with, and none of us would like to see again.
Third, for all its imperfections, multilateralism, the international system centered on the United Nations and an international order based on international law as best embodied in the UN Charter is still our best collective choice, even for the most powerful of all countries, but particularly for the lesser powerful ones. Cooperation on the basis of openness and commonly agreed rules, still represents the best chance of realizing long-term peace and development as individual countries and collectively, and of addressing the global challenges we face, such as COVID and climate change. It goes against the very nature and spirit of multilateralism to practise bloc politics, establish exclusive circles, or create and deepen ideological, systemic or even so-called civilizational fault lines. As a matter of fact, it could be a dangerous slippery slope to unmitigated disasters.
Let me now move on to our bilateral relations and how, as we see it, they should be conducted in light of the changes in the world.
As you are aware, this year marks the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. The Leaders of the two countries took the courageous and visionary step to break the ice 50 years ago in 1972. We have come a long way since then. And what has happened to both the wider world and our particular relationship must have gone beyond even the most ambitious expectations of anyone back then. The high-level bonds and the resultant deepening mutual understanding and trust, the bursting two-way economic ties, the deeply rooted people-to-people links and the cooperation at both global and regional levels can only be characterized as no less than exemplary among relations between countries of different endowments, social and economic systems, and stages of development.
This evolving relationship has over the years brought increasing mutual benefits to both countries and above all, both peoples, while contributing, at the same time, to global peace, stability and prosperity, which culminated in the upgrade of the relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership announced in 2014.
Just as we have ample reasons to be proud of the progress so far, we also have ample reasons to be confident of the further potentials to be unlocked going into the next phase for our partnership, given the drivers that continue to power its growth.
I shall illustrate briefly some of them here.
At the Leaders’ level, PM Ardern and President Xi Jinping reached broad agreement on working together to take the relationship to new heights during their virtual meeting last November. High-level meetings like this help to keep the relationship pumped and to ensure that its evolution is steered in the right direction. And we look forward to the resumption of leader and ministerial level in-person visits as COVID restrictions ease further.
On the economic front, entry into force of RCEP at the start of the year and, in early April, of the Upgrade of our bilateral FTA opens up new opportunities for trade to grow further between us. On top of that, both potential membership for China of CPTPP and DEPA, cooperation on sustainable agri-business and renewable energy, and the proposed opening up of new trade routes under the Belt and Road Initiative will add new growth areas to the dynamic economic ties between us. China is already by far the biggest export market and by far the biggest source of trade surplus for NZ. There might be slower or faster patches or even blips in the in the trajectory for trade between us. As long as the Chinese economy keeps growing over the long run, which WILL, I believe, I am fully confident that two-way trade and investment have much further to go in the coming years and decades.
People-to-people-wise, the deeper integration of the local Chinese community into the multicultural mosaic of the NZ society has helped to ensure a growing number of people’s ambassadors both ways as bridge-builders for better understanding and cooperation between the two peoples and countries. Let alone the tens of thousands or even more, of the business people, students, tourists and others waiting eagerly to travel both ways and to reconnect once borders reopen.
All is not rosy, however. Indeed, the relationship has got its fair share of challenges, the foremost of which is the way we address the differences between us. It is no surprise, nor any secret that some of these differences are inevitable, given the divergence between us in historical and cultural backgrounds and levels of economic development.
The real and crucial question here is whether we would be able to manage these differences constructively so that they would not be blown out of proportions or, in the words of PM Ardern, be allowed to define our relationship. How we answer this question will decide where the baseline for this all important relationship lies.
For us, the best way to handle this dimension of our relationship is through dialogue and consultations on the basis of mutual respect, mutual understanding and accommodation, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Informed by these parameters and a willingness to keep our eyes and minds open, there is nothing we cannot talk about between NZ and China. That includes, for example, issues related to human rights and how we could avoid misunderstanding and join our hands in promoting peace, stability and common prosperity in the South Pacific region.
Another challenge, going back to a point I made earlier, is how we might respond, both respectively and together, to what goes on around us.
For China, developing a strong relationship with NZ has never been a choice of convenience. Rather, it has always been a long-term, strategic decision in line with our independent foreign policy of peace and common development. Nothing that has happened in the global and regional situation has changed our commitment to our partnership, and nothing will. On the contrary, as we see it, our working together, either bilaterally or at global and regional levels, have taken on even greater importance and urgency in view of the tectonic shifts in the global landscape.
The case for that is pretty straightforward.
For one, cooperation to complement and benefit each other make for greater growth, stability, resilience and predictability for both economies, as convincingly demonstrated in the recent Council-sponsored report on bilateral trade since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Two, both NZ and China wish to see fair and functioning international and regional rules and architectures, and both are stakeholders in keeping markets open and promoting closer and deeper integration.
And last but not least, both NZ and China would like peace, stability and prosperity to continue in the Asia-Pacific region, our common home. Neither would like to see tensions and instability, let alone conflicts or wars in this neighborhood.
A final observation is on the importance of national branding, as some of you may have already heard me talk about in some of our private conversations.
In both domestic politics and international diplomacy, perception impacts on the lens through which the substance is to be seen, and helps to shape the parameters for the substance to be defined. And sometimes, in foreign policy as in domestic politics, perception is the substance. That is why national branding, informed by broad-based public perception is a central variant in the equation of relations between states.
In China, there is widespread cognizance of NZ as a green, clean, open and friendly country. This very positive national branding is one of the most valuable assets of our relationship, and arguably the most potent marketing tool for all products and services from NZ. And a mutually positive public opinion is arguably the strongest of all pillars for the edifice of this important relationship. We have to keep in mind, though, that this asset of ours did not come out of nowhere or as a matter of course, but has been slowly built up with hard work over the years from both sides. Nor can it be taken for granted. It is thus incumbent upon us, as stakeholders in, and custodians of, the relationship, to protect it carefully, use it wisely, and make sure it will not be squandered.
We are full of anticipation for the 50th anniversary as both an occasion to celebrate what we have achieved, and more importantly, as an opportunity to reflect on the lessons we could learn together from our common and very productive journey so far, and then on that basis, to chart the way forward for the relationship in the next 50 years and beyond, with a view to bringing even more tangible benefits to our two peoples, making greater contribution to the world, giving, in that process, ever more substance to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between us. We look forward to working closely together with the NZ side to realize these goals.
In this context, I do think the importance of the work of the institutions like the Council cannot be overstated. So let me conclude by thanking the Council and its members for the contribution you make to the relationship. And I wish the Council’s meeting today a success.