Road starts here - New Zealand to catch the 'Belt and Road' train

Updated: March 29, 2017 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) meets with New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy in Auckland, New Zealand, March 28, 2017. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei) 

To many in New Zealand, the Oceanian state looks like an isolated outpost with economic powerhouses far, far away in another hemisphere.

It's at the end of a trail that snakes through Southeast Asia before a three-hour flight from Australia lands you in one of its handful of international airports.

Small wonder that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, a massive economic and trade project for common development and prosperity in countries along its routes in Europe, Africa and Asia, is little talked about here.

However, New Zealanders are now starting to realize that while their country might be a terminal on the Initiative's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, it won't be left out, surely after signing an agreement on the initiative with China on March 28, 2017.


The initiation of a business network by important figures including president of the ruling National Party Peter Goodfellow and National legislator, China-born scholar turned politician Yang Jian, coincided with an official visit here by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang starting Sunday.

The Oceania Silk Road Network (OSRN) is being forged by New Zealand business interests, headed by William Zhao, director and CEO of the China-owned Yashili New Zealand Dairy Company.

"There's a group of us exploring setting up this mechanism and it's in an environment where there's a growing interest among organizations focused on China to explore ways that New Zealand can engage more in China's very important initiative," said Martin Thomson, head of New Zealand-China Trade Association and one of the four OSRN initiators.

The OSRN will be in link with China's think tanks and industrial alliances to seek opportunities for Belt and Road Initiative projects.

"It's a recognition among those interested in China that collectively we need to learn a bit more about how we can engage in relation to it," Thomson told Xinhua by phone.

"There's clearly opportunity for us to do that and the starting point is for people to engage and start thinking about how" he said.

Thomson also sees the initiative as facilitating infrastructure development in New Zealand, while serving markets in the region.

"New Zealand's a trading country. We sell a lot of products offshore and the opportunity to open up markets with greater infrastructure in regions that we don't currently sell a lot to is a great opportunity," he said.

Others are keen to interpret signals Li gave in regard to New Zealand's inclusion in the Belt and Road Initiative during his visit this week.

"There's a range of ways in which New Zealand companies could participate," said Stephen Jacobi, acting executive director of New Zealand-China Council.

"For example, we could supply goods or services into construction projects into Eurasia, the countries around China that they're targeting for infrastructure development," Jacobi told Xinhua by phone.

Another sector to tap potential would be how goods and services move along the initiative's routes.

"This is an area where New Zealand has an expertise around trade facilitation, around supply chain integrity and optimization," he said.


Meanwhile, China-born legislator Raymond Huo believed the Belt and Road Initiative can help solve the problem of infrastructure development facing many developed nations.

"There is a dilemma. New Zealand, Australia and other developed countries including the US and Canada are all facing the same problem," Huo told Xinhua.

"We haven't done much upgrading, so we need money, we need capital, and we need the construction capacity. China has both," he said.

Huo said he first realized the potential of Belt and Road Initiative when he attended two high-level conferences in China, and he believed New Zealand should seize the opportunities it offers.

Along with other experts on China and leading business people, he has established a think tank and foundation on the Initiative.

The think tank aims to tackle issues including a possibly prevailing protectionist trend around the world, and public perceptions of and attitudes towards global trade, among others.

The foundation is expected to focus on financing, joining in efforts by such institutions as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Silk Road Fund to work for infrastructure projects.

"We need a think tank to get involved in brainstorming to find a way to benefit the New Zealand economy," including an infrastructure upgrade, Huo, the think tank's co-chair, said in a telephone interview.

Huo believed the think tank will also help New Zealanders to better understand the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Chinese people and culture.

It has already established links with China's National Development and Reform Commission, construction companies and private equity firms to seek opportunities.

In addition, it plans to convene a high-level conference on New Zealand-based Initiative projects after the New Zealand general elections to be held in September.

"We will bring together and coordinate a network of business leaders and organizations across the board to develop effective, efficient and environmentally sustainable economy while maintaining peace and harmony in our region," said Huo.

Simon Draper, executive director of Asia-New Zealand Foundation, described the Belt and Road Initiative as "organic".

"It's going to develop over time," he said. "It seems to me that it's potentially a train coming down the track and we have to understand it better."

Trade Minister Todd McClay said the initiative itself is to endure the test of time while stressing that New Zealand saw itself as a partner of China in its implementation.

"You could almost suggest that the road starts in New Zealand, but we'll be looking for ways to enhance our relationship through this substantial and worthwhile initiative," McClay said.

"It's an ongoing conversation we're having and I don't think it's about just what we might think today. The initiative itself is to endure the test of time and it's about enhancing opportunities for citizens of those countries through growth and a stronger economy," he said.

Editor: lishen