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Chance to reset China relations

Opinion Piece

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern returns to the demanding world of realpolitik today with her rushed visit to China, where she has real challenges to face.

The fact that Ardern has decided to go to China so soon after the Christchurch terror attack shows the importance of the relationship with our largest trading partner.

That relationship suffered after our intelligence agency the GCSB put a block on Spark working with leading global telecoms equipment maker Huawei, and comments about China’s role in the Pacific by Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

A planned larger visit including business leaders was postponed, feeding into claims that the Government’s handling of relations with China was faulty — on the back of the fact Ardern had yet to visit as Prime Minister.

Those worries seem to have been debunked a little by the present visit, with a trade delegation to follow later.

There will already be some uncomfortable items on the agenda when Ardern meets Premier Li Keqiang over a working lunch, then Chinese President Xi Jinping ?. . . and the Prime Minister says she will also raise the thorny issue of China’s treatment of the Muslim minority group the Uighurs.

But for cold-eyed realists the big issue is New Zealand’s free trade agreement and the need to extend and enhance it. Since that agreement, the first of its kind, was signed in 2008 New Zealand’s trade with China has tripled — with ?$30 billion spent in two-way trade last year.

Any progress on that front would be a major achievement, but the brief nature of the visit will make this more difficult.

Ardern will not allow her Government to let the ghastly after-effects of the Christchurch mosque killings go on to the back burner, but this is the year she says they intend to deliver — and there are major subjects like the capital gains tax proposal that are going to need attention.

National has effectively been sidelined as the country responds to the terror attack — at some point soon Simon Bridges and his team have to come out of their corner and start to box again, and we’ll be back to politics as usual.