BEIJING — The following is the transcript of Xinhuanet’s exclusive interview with John McKinnon, New Zealand’s ambassador to China.
Q: Your Excellency, we know that the annual “Two Sessions” are expecting for next month, which are seen as significant window to learn about China’s development. So what issues draw most of your attention? And why?
John McKinnon: Well, it is a very important series of meetings for China, and everybody who is, like me, working in China pays a lot of attention to it, of course. And our main focus of attention is the government work report of Premier Li Keqiang, because in it not only the Premier talks about how China has progressed in the past, but also talks about what has been planned for the future. And so we find it very interesting, we are particularly interested in the attention being given to environmental issues in the current plan, because that’s the area we think there is a lot possible developments and the area where we think that New Zealand and China are able to cooperate.
Q: Yeah. Just as you mentioned, you are talking about the future of China, and this year ushers in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) of China. We know that innovation has been considered as the most important key driver for China’s economic growth in the future. Moreover, the international media said that the innovation-driven development will serve as a kind of new engine for China’s economy in the future. So in which fields do you believe that China should focus its innovation and development in the future?
John McKinnon: Well, the innovation concept is very significant, very interesting, and also one that New Zealand has embraced, because we recognize, like China, that without innovation it is hard for industry and business to develop. So when we hear that here we are very pleased and very excited because many of the areas of activity that we engage in, science and technology, particularly as I just mentioned with the environment, innovating is actually the key to success. So when I say just now that we are interested that China places more emphasis on the environment, in next five years’ plan for us that the critical area for innovation because you have to come up with new ways thinking about the old problems.
Q: We know the Belt and Road Initiative was put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2013. We all know it does not merely remain a concept, but has been actually put into practice. For instance, the opening of the AIIB and the establishment of the $40-billion Silk Road Fund. So Your Excellency, what benefits has your country gained from this Initiative? What are the challenges?
John McKinnon: Well, we have been following the emergence of the “One Belt, One Road”. It was something that the president spoke about when he visited New Zealand in November, 2014, and it was actually following that New Zealand took the decision to become a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). And then for us it is one of the main vehicles through which we see, this or these concepts being advanced, but also other countries being able to be involved. New Zealand is in the Pacific Ocean, so we are a little bit away from the main parts of the Belt and Road. But we are very interested in those developments and we can see that a number of our enterprises and business could in fact participate in it. But beyond that, we see it is as altering the way in which the countries in the region, particularly in central Asia, which are remote from the sea interact with other countries. So it is a very significant set of developments. As you say, it is now acquiring some real content and we look forward to that continuing to develop over the next few years.
Q: We all know that China’s economy has shifted gear to the “new normal” and now is undergoing the so-called structural reform, especially for the supply-side structural reform. However, some media reports forecasting hard landing for China’s economy go viral. What do you see about the outlook of China’s economic growth in this year?
John McKinnon: The outlook has a lot of promise. We also watch and notice the different comments about China. We are aware that government has created the “new normal” framework. From a New Zealand point of view, we will look at that situation through different sectors and through different places. So it depends a little bit on which business you are in. Much of what Chinese consumers buy from New Zealand, whether it is our excellent food products or whether it is because they go there for travel, are probably, not deeply affected by what is happening within other parts of the Chinese economy. So we are confident on what we have seen to date that Chinese people will continue to want to purchase New Zealand’s goods and New Zealand’s services. But there are parts of the country, where may be problems that are stronger. So one of the other areas we think about is different parts of China are in different situations. Yesterday, I had received from a delegation from Hubei province, next week we are hearing people from Ningxia, those are two very different parts of China and they have two very different situations, but they are both interested in how they can take forward their own development.
Q: The next question is about “Chinese Dream”, the concept raised in 2012. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly expounded this concept, just like the “Asia-Pacific Dream”, the“African Dream”, the“Latin American Dream” and “World Dream” in various international arenas to spread China’s concept on development. How do you think of this concept?
John McKinnon: Well, this is something for China and for Chinese People. We hear that and we respect that, we can see President Xi has developed a vision of what he wants China to achieve. And that’s one for which in terms of increasing prosperity for Chinese people, we fully support, and we can see the way which they may fit on the aspect of China’s relation to other countries, and other parts of the world. So from New Zealand’s perspective, what we welcome is China has been an increasingly prosperous, increasingly secure and increasingly stable country, playing an important role in the world. And New Zealand is very happy to be a partner of that China in that future.
Q: Just as you mentioned, New Zealand and China cooperated closely in past years, So, Your Excellency, what is your view on the development of relationship between the two countries in recent years?
John McKinnon: We have many areas of interaction activities which are developing very fast. I mentioned a few minutes ago, the number of tourists coming from China to New Zealand are growing very rapidly, and we welcome them very much, and there are many more airlines now flying to New Zealand. We have a number of projects which are more in primary industry and primary sector area, involving our dairy products, involving farms, involving supply of high quality of meat products to China, which are moving ahead. We also have cooperation in what we call the screen sector: films and television. And we now have a co-production group with China, and which we are (going to produce) some of the first co-production films between China and New Zealand.
Another area is in science cooperation, so we have a number of specific cooperative projects between New Zealand and China. And number of areas including water quality which is very important to both countries, and non-communicable diseases. So you can almost look at any area of domestic or international activity, and you find some points of interface between China and New Zealand, it’s a very broad relationship.
Q: In the future, in which fields do you believe that the two countries will make breakthroughs to boost bilateral ties?
John McKinnon: I know for most Chinese people that when they think about New Zealand, they think about the scenery and they think about the milk powder, that’s probably the two things that come to their mind. What we would like is for Chinese people to also think more broadly about New Zealand as a source of innovation, as a place for education and as a place for sophisticated technology. Those are the areas that we think because of China’s development and because of New Zealand’s development, we have many, many points of interaction. We are obviously very different, not just in the numbers of our people but also all sort of other respects. But that should never be a barrier to our interaction in fact quite the reverse and that can often become the basis of future interaction. So whatever happens in China and whatever happens in New Zealand, I’m very confident about the future relationship, but we have to keep working very hard.
Q: Let’s move on to the last question, Your Excellency, could you please tell us the major projects for bilateral exchanges and cooperation between the two countries?
John McKinnon: Well, we have a quite range of activities, so in the areas of primary industry, we have a number of forums in which we discuss to advance cooperation in agriculture industries and agriculture cooperation. We have just had some discussions on the UN Security Council, because this year New Zealand is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, so we have a lot of issues that we are interested in talking about with China. Shortly, there will be Chinese delegation going to New Zealand to talk about the Antarctica, because we both have interests in that continent, and its future. We also have a project to do with migratory birds, which is probably something people don’t quite realize, but some of these birds migrate from New Zealand to Russia, and they overfly China and they rest in China. So these are all things which are happening in the next few months. So whichever direction you look in there is really large agenda of activity taking place, and one of our challenges is to keep across it. But I know that Chinese people are interested in New Zealand and want to go there, we welcome them, and we also encourage more and more New Zealanders to come to China.