New Zealand foreign minister to meet Chinese counterpart in Beijing

·2 min read
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

(Reuters) -New Zealand's foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, will travel to China on Tuesday to meet her counterpart Qin Gang on the first such visit by a New Zealand minister since 2019.

Mahuta said she would raise New Zealand's concerns about key security challenges at the meeting with Qin Gang in Beijing, such as the "illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine", and advocate for outcomes reflecting its values on issues such as human rights.

"New Zealand's relationship with China is one of our most important, complex and wide ranging," she said in a statement. "I intend to discuss areas where we co-operate, such as on trade, people-to-people and climate and environmental issues."

The trip follows the easing of COVID-19 travel curbs between the countries, she said.

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed Mahuta's visit at a media briefing on Monday, saying it was scheduled for March 22 to March 25.

China hopes the visit would enhance communication, mutual respect and trust, and work for greater progress in bilateral ties, Wang said.

New Zealand, part of the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance that includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, has historically taken a more conciliatory approach towards its biggest trading partner, a stance that has at times led to pressure from some of its Western allies.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand's position on China had not changed. The government last year adopted a tougher tone after China and the Solomon Islands struck a security pact.

In December, then-premier Jacinda Ardern said she hoped to lead a trade mission to China once it relaxed its travel rules, after she met President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.

Hipkins said he had not "certainly taken off the table" a trip to China this year.

"I don't have an update on ... the potential dates or the process around that today, there has been ongoing discussions around that, obviously," he told reporters.

"I'm not announcing a visit today."

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Beijing Newsroom;Editing by Alasdair Pal and Clarence Fernandez)