Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping shake hands in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo / 1News
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is currently meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
The pair greeted each other, shook hands and posed for the obligatory media photo before heading into their meeting with respective delegations shortly before 9pm (NZ time).
It is the most significant engagement in his week-long trip to China, and comes at a pivotal time in New Zealand’s relationship with China and China’s relationship with the world.
The Herald will have updates from the meeting as it happens.
One topic that has worked its way onto the agenda is the deteriorating situation in Russia, following the aborted mutiny by the Yevgeny Prigozhin-led Wagner group over the weekend.
This has been a hot topic in Beijing this week, as it coincided with the city hosting Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko. China has offered its tacit backing to the Putin regime after the mutiny, refusing to weigh into it and describing it as Moscow’s “internal affairs”.
Speaking to media ahead of the trip Hipkins said the Government was “monitoring the situation in Russia very closely”.
He said the mutiny could have a positive impact if it lead to a de-escalation of the situation in Russia.
“If this is a catalyst for de-escalation of the conflict, that’s something that New Zealand would strongly support and welcome,” Hipkins said.
Whether the mutiny had compromised Putin’s position in China, he said, was ultimately a question for Russia’s people.
Hipkins has said trade is the primary aim of the trip, but topics like human rights and New Zealand’s objection to the increasing militarisation of the Pacific are also expected to come up.
The latter came up during what the Australian newspaper, citing an anonymous source, described as an hour-long harangue and a dressing down for Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta at the hands of her Chinese counterpart Qin Gangwhen she visited China in March.
Mahuta today did not deny reports of that meeting, describing it as “robust”.
Hipkins was asked whether he thought Xi would be similarly explosive, but only said he thought the meeting would be “diplomatic”.
Diplomacy between ministers tends to be more forthright and disputatious than meetings between leaders, which are designed to be less contentious to build strong interpersonal relations between leaders.
Before meeting Xi, Hipkins will meet Zhao Leji, the chairman of the National People’s Congress.
The tension between trade and security will be top of mind at the meeting, with Chinese state media, including the broadsheet People’s Daily and tabloid Global Times running pieces suggesting New Zealand can set an example for other Western nations in its engagement with China.
This would include taking a less hawkish “anti-China” approach on matters of security and human rights. The reward for this would be continued positive trade relations, with two-way trade now toalling $40 billion.
Hipkins began the day in Tianjin, a city of about 12 million people about 100km southeast of Beijing.
The city was hosting the World Economic Forum, which hosted a summer version of its Davos jamboree there.
Hipkins shares a panel with the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, and the Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh.
Mottley had recently arrived from Paris where she, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, was pushing for developed nations to remove barriers to small states for accessing climate change development and adaptation funding.
The panel discussed adapting to global headwinds, like climate change. Hipkins said New Zealand tried to pull its weight on climate for the sake of preserving the “clean green” image used to market our exports.
Hipkins also met Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, who had more recently found fame as the target of online conspiracy theorists.
He had two brief “pull-aside” meetings with the Prime Minister of Mongolia Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai and the World Trade Organisation director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh made a minor faux pas during his bilateral meeting with Hipkins, which could be a case of things getting lost in translation.
Making opening remarks to media, Chính through a translator wished Hipkins’ party “success” in the forthcoming election.
Congratulating leaders on electoral success is fairly common and a non-partisan feature of diplomacy. What is less usual is wishing a party “success” in an election. The point is that leaders should be able to cooperate with whoever wins.
“I wish to extend my congratulations to your election as prime minister of New Zealand and I wish every success to your forthcoming election in New Zealand,” he said. This on its own is not contentious, as it could be interpreted to mean Chinh was wishing the country a successful election no matter who won.
What was slightly more awkward was the line that followed: “I wish all the success to your party,” he said through a translator.
Hipkins has not addressed media since the comments were made this morning. He looked relieved when the topic moved to more neutral ground: well-wishing for the forthcoming Fifa Women’s World Cup.