WELLINGTON: China’s Premier Li Qiang was welcomed to New Zealand with a traditional ceremony in the capital Wellington on Thursday ahead of a meeting with the country’s prime minister, in the highest level Chinese visit in seven years.

Li was greeted on the lawns of Government House by both Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and the governor-general and participated in a traditional Indigenous Maori welcome before heading inside for meetings.

“Everyone knows that the international situation is undergoing complex and profound changes, but we China and New Zealand attach great importance to developing bilateral relations,” Li said ahead of the meeting.

“Our willingness to step up mutually beneficiation cooperation is equally strong,” he said, adding he was willing to have a frank exchange of views with Luxon. Previously a more moderate voice on China, New Zealand’s relationship with China has changed since the last time a Chinese premier visited in 2017.

New Zealand has toughened its stance this year, calling out Beijing for hacking the country’s parliament and noting the growing threat China poses to security in the Pacific.

New Zealand, however, has largely avoided the trade disputes with Beijing that have until recently impacted neighbouring Australia.

“Our candid discussion and our ongoing frank dialogue is absolutely essential if we are to make the most of the opportunities that we have for our two countries and also to navigate the areas of difficulty,” Luxon said ahead of the meeting, highlighting opportunities in areas of trade, energy and climate change.

New Zealand PM says China Premier Li Qiang to visit this week

Chinese-New Zealanders gathered at a central city hotel to greet the premier holding banners supporting China’s relationship with New Zealand and waving Chinese flags and beating drums. Others held banners protesting China’s treatment of its citizens.

“I’m just very excited to be here,” said Ling Wang, who had travelled two hours from city Palmerston North to greet the premier, having made the same trip in 2017 when Premier Li Keqiang visited.

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