China’s choice of ambassador to New Zealand indicates focus on deepening economic ties

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Wang Xiaolong, the new Chinese ambassador to New Zealand, previously worked on his country’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Wang Xiaolong, who replaced former ambassador Wu Xi, previously served as director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s department of international economic affairs. In that role, Wang helped oversee the BRI – which seeks to deepen economic ties between China and other countries and is a key focus of President Xi Jinping.

Wang appears to be more of a peace-maker figure than the crop of “wolf warrior” diplomats in other foreign postings.

Given Wang’s background, discussions about New Zealand involvement in the BRI could grow, according to Dr Jason Young, director of the Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University, who noted that the economic relationship between the two had “held up really well compared to some other countries”.

There was some New Zealand interest in the BRI under former prime minister John Key’s centre-right National government. In 2017, China and New Zealand signed a “memorandum of agreement” to develop a plan for New Zealand involvement.

Last year, Wellington indicated a willingness to work with China on “mutually beneficial” BRI projects with an environmental emphasis. It remains unclear what that would involve.

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