Chinese dinner hits the spot for Key

HAMISH RUTHERFORD IN BEIJING
Last updated 05:00 19/03/2014

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OPINION: Sitting down to a feast of Peking duck with the President of China is hardly the same as a photo of your son high-fiving Barack Obama during a round of golf, but in terms of symbolism the invite should hit the spot.

Everyone from Prime Minister John Key down has been eager to explain in recent days that last year's botulism scare has done no lasting damage to relations with China, New Zealand's largest export market.

While Key's visit to China this week - built around giving assurances over food safety standards - is unusual, it is hard to argue with the evidence that relations with China continue to deepen and broaden.

Trade with China, an economy strongly controlled by officials in Beijing, continues to grow at remarkable speed.

Yesterday, there was formal announcement that New Zealand would be allowed direct currency trade with China, becoming one of only a handful of currencies in the world to do so.

The first stop of this week's trip was for  Key to witness the striking of a deal for Hamilton-based Pacific Aerospace to sell aircraft to China yesterday.

All of this came ahead of tonight's dinner, intimate in terms of state dinners at eight or nine guests a side, believed to be the first with a New Zealand prime minister since David Lange in the 1980s.

In the lead-up to this trip, the schedule appeared lacking in any event which could match the pageantry of last year's 19-gun salute on the courtyard in front of Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

But the night's dinner suggests both that China has no interest in embarrassing New Zealand over the botulism scare, and that the relationship between the leaders is warm and personal. 

This is Key's third meeting with President Xi Jinping in a year, possibly the most the Chinese leader has had with any foreign leader. Such details win few votes at home, especially with no media attending the dinner.

But in terms of giving confidence that all is well with one of the main drivers of New Zealand's economy, it is hard to beat.

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- Fairfax Media

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