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Clark tells China NZ wants to be first

New Zealand Herald

Clark tells China NZ wants to be first

31 May 2005

By Fran O’Sullivan

BEIJING - Prime Minister Helen Clark has told China’s leaders she wants New Zealand to be the first developed nation to sign a free-trade deal with the Asian economic powerhouse.

At separate meetings at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday, she made clear to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jibao that New Zealand was looking for a comprehensive result.

"We were the first to enter negotiations," she said. "You would have to be unduly pessimistic not to think we’d be the first to conclude."

However, in a reference to human rights concerns, she noted: "But it will not be at any price."

She told the two leaders that New Zealand was a committed and dynamic economic partner. And she emphasised that New Zealand’s future was intertwined with Asia’s.

President Hu, flanked by top Chinese ministers and officials, said China was "ready to make progress".

He told the Prime Minister that a bilateral free-trade deal should be a "win-win agreement".

Helen Clark said Mr Hu agreed that "with leadership from the top we can get a good result".

Other issues covered included Taiwan, China’s activities in the Pacific, the North Korean nuclear dispute and China’s relationship with Japan.

Helen Clark maintained that on the bilateral front there were only opportunities, not problems. She acknowledged that there were some areas sensitive to both NZ and China.

"To this point nothing is off the table in the negotiations ... I got the impression President Hu knew exactly what I would come to say.

"I believe he remains open pending full reports from his own negotiators as negotiations go along to a good outcome."

But Helen Clark said that if a free-trade deal could successfully be negotiated, the demonstrative effect for China was very powerful.

She said the President was optimistic there would be a good outcome.

The Prime Minister was buoyed by her discussions with the President on the formation of an East Asian community. She said "the tone of his comments suggested Mr Hu was supportive of that".

Helen Clark was expected to raise concerns about human rights with China’s leaders but said she would not allow such issues to derail free-trade talks.

The Clark visit comes just days before the 16th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in which pro-democracy students were killed by Army tanks outside the Great Hall of the People.

Early yesterday, Chinese sensitivity over the slaughter was highlighted when a New Zealand journalist was questioned while trying to film at the Beijing landmark.

TVNZ journalist Guyon Espiner gained permission to film in Tiananmen Square, but a Chinese Government minder stopped him when he began to talk about human rights issues and the events there.


* 1.3 billion people.

* 6th-largest economy.

* $1.7 billion value of NZ exports last year.

* $400 million a year estimated value of trade deal to NZ.