17 Jun 2010

Official dinner rounds off vice-president's first day

9:55 pm on 17 June 2010

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping has rounded off his first day of official engagements with a dinner hosted by Prime Minister John Key, during which both men paid tribute to the successful bilateral relationship between the countries.

Mr Xi arrived in Auckland on Thursday morning for the start of a three-day visit, along with a high-powered Chinese business delegation.

Mr Key hosted Mr Xi at Government House, along with about 50 other guests, among them former prime minister Jim Bolger, top-ranking cabinet ministers Steven Joyce, Tim Groser, Judith Collins and David Carter, former deputy prime minister Sir Don McKinnon and leading Chinese New Zealand business leaders.

Speaking through a translator, Mr Xi told guests he wanted both countries to build on the success their free-trade agreement.

Mr Xi and Mr Key will hold trade talks on Friday at Government House.

Agreement 'a success'

New Zealand's free-trade agreement with China has been a success for both countries and is set to promote further economic opportunities, says Mr Xi.

China and New Zealand signed a free-trade agreement in 2008.

Mr Xi told a business lunch that New Zealand and China must explore ways to develop trade ideas and co-operation in the Pacific.

The trip is the latest of a series of contacts in recent years that include a visit by President Hu Jintao.

Mr Xi also visited a Fisher & Paykel Appliances plant.

Several agreements will be signed during the visit, including an endorsement of bilateral progress.

The visit is being welcomed by political and business leaders, who say the trade agreement has brought dividends to both countries.

Trade Minister Tim Groser told about 300 people at a business lunch that more people were beginning to realise the free-trade agreement with China was benefiting many New Zealanders.

Mr Groser told the audience China has played an important role in sheltering New Zealand from the full impact of the global recession.

He says the agreement is not a silver bullet for all trade matters, but it provides a platform for developing a wider bilateral relationship.

Mr Groser says New Zealand exporters are barely scratching the surface of the trade opportunities with China.

China has passed Japan and the United States to become New Zealand's second-biggest trading partner after Australia.

Protest outside hotel

Forty police officers kept two Chinese groups apart as Mr Xi left an Auckland hotel.

Twenty Falun Gong supporters had maintained a silent vigil outside the hotel, protesting against persecution of their members in China.

They were joined by about 100 pro-China supporters who shouted slogans and waved national flags as Mr Xi's motorcade left the Langham Hotel.

One of the group, Jerry Guo, says the Falun Gong protesters let down the Chinese.