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International relations

Xi meets with New Zealand prime minister to court US ally

Beijing aims to drive wedge into Five Eye intelligence pact

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on April 1. The countries have been at odds over the security risk posed by Chinese communications products.   © Reuters

BEIJING/SYDNEY -- Chinese President Xi Jinping met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Beijing Monday as he tried to poke holes in a U.S.-led intelligence alliance that seeks to exclude Chinese communication devices from 5-G networks.

"We hope that we can aspire to the greatest common denominator regarding each other's interests," Xi said at their summit. "China wants to continue fresh investments, and New Zealand should provide a fair and balanced environment for Chinese companies," he stressed.

In response, Ardern said that New Zealand is pursuing an independent diplomatic policy and that the country supports free trade.

Prior to her summit with Xi, Ardern met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who agreed to upgrade their free trade agreement as part of efforts to strengthen economic ties.

New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes information-sharing alliance with the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. When the Trump administration asked these nations to ban products from China's Huawei Technologies over security concerns, New Zealand's intelligence agency said that the company's 5G products posed a "significant network security risk," leading to tensions with Beijing.

The aim of Ardern's visit to China was to shore up ties with a country that is the largest destination for New Zealand exports. She told Li that her country would not discriminate against any company from any country, suggesting that Huawei products may not be banned there.

It would be significant for China to make inroads with a Five Eyes ally as it spars with the U.S. over trade. Xi also seeks a closer partnership on his Belt and Road Initiative, for which the two have already signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on infrastructure construction. New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker is expected to visit a Belt and Road forum in Beijing early this month.

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