New Zealand’s new National-led government has a more consistent approach to its relationship with China than the previous six years of Labour. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins outlined three principles for New Zealand’s relationship with China in a July 2023 speech to the China Business Summit. These principles align with similar ones in liberal democracies worldwide, such as Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
New Zealand is seeking to manage differences in the relationship, push back in areas of concern, and maintain conditions for a mutually beneficial relationship. This balanced approach highlights challenges, risks, and opportunities while seeking careful management of the relationship. The incoming government is unlikely to move away from this approach in favor of greater caution or a more hawkish one.
The National’s election manifesto emphasizes strengthening traditional partnerships, rules-based engagement, and promoting vibrant trading, particularly with India, indicating consistency rather than change in New Zealand’s China settings. New Zealand’s foreign affairs play a minimal role in election campaigns, with China rarely mentioned. The National Party, backed by public opinion and a ‘China-plus’ trading strategy, has a strong consensus on China policy. The new government will balance priorities, including forming a coalition with the ACT and New Zealand First parties.
The ACT has a hawkish position on China, describing it as a threat to democracy and calling for stronger condemnation of China’s human rights record. New Zealand First has a populist approach to China and further development of traditional partnerships. The National Party must manage their coalition partners’ positions on China, focusing on business and trading relations, as geopolitical conditions have significantly changed since 2017, making the China relationship more complex.
The incoming National-led government is expected to maintain the crucial economic relationship with China while developing relations with other markets and key diplomatic and security partners. Changes may include removing the ban on live animal exports to China, encouraging Chinese companies to bid for infrastructure projects in New Zealand, and encouraging Chinese electric vehicle companies to expand into New Zealand.
However, well-documented issues will need to be managed pragmatically to avoid an Australia-style breakdown in relations. This suggests a steady-as-she-goes approach to the China relationship, aiming for mutually beneficial relations to further New Zealand’s interests, but with a more complex understanding of the interests and stakes at stake.