New Zealand's Ardern talked co-operation with China, while also raising concerns

By Lucy Craymer

WELLINGTON (Reuters) -New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discussed bilateral relations and areas of co-operation with China's President Xi Jinping on Friday, while also raising concerns about human rights and the Taiwan Strait, the New Zealand government said.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok. This was their first in-person meeting since 2019.

A New Zealand government readout said Ardern spoke to Xi of the strength of the bilateral connection and significant areas of cooperation including trade, agriculture, climate change and the environment.

It added that she also raised New Zealand's concerns regarding Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

"Noting New Zealand's interest in peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, the Prime Minister acknowledged China's long standing relationships in the Pacific, but encouraged that where issues or cooperation impacted the wider Pacific region, engagement with regional architecture such as the Pacific Islands Forum was key," it said.

New Zealand has long been seen as the moderate, even absent, voice on China in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.

However, New Zealand's tone on both security and China's growing presence in the South Pacific toughened this year after China and the Solomon Islands struck a security pact.

But while Australia's relationship with China has deteriorated, New Zealand and China's interactions have remained largely cordial.

The readout said Ardern had encouraged China to use its influence and access to help address regional and international security challenges such North Korea's behaviour and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"The Prime Minister registered the importance of working together to sustain the rules, norms and systems that have served the region and the world so well for so many decades," the readout said.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)