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China and New Zealand on Wednesday signed a string of agreements designed to boost trade between the two countries, as their leaders met in Beijing for talks.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is in China on a multi-day, multi-city mission to drum up business and help his nation exit an election-year recession.
After meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, Hipkins' charm offensive continued Wednesday, when he met Premier Li Qiang at the Great Hall of the People, greeted by a 48-strong band from the People's Liberation Army.
Dialling down any criticism over China's human rights abuses, tensions over Taiwan, and Beijing's tacit support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Hipkins hailed the meeting as a reaffirmation of "important economic connections" between the countries.
"Our trading relationship is worth over NZ$40 (US$24) billion annually," Hipkins said, stressing the need to "reaffirm the important economic connections we have with China".
Li for his part welcomed Hipkins warmly as "a young and promising politician" and thanked him for the visit "after less than half a year in office".
Agreements were signed on trade, agriculture, forestry, education, and science and innovation.
With an eye on criticism rumbling at home, Hipkins insisted that a "strong economic relationship" with China was "helping boost New Zealand's economic recovery".
New Zealand's economy slid into recession earlier this year, fuelled by a drop in exports and a slowdown in the country's all-important agriculture industry.
Wellington's Western allies have long been concerned about what they see as the New Zealand economy's overdependence on trade with China.
But with growth stalling and Hipkins facing a tough campaign to secure another term in October, such concerns have been put on the back burner.
Hipkins said "areas of difference, such as over human rights" were dealt with in a "respectful" way.
"I urged China to use its influence to encourage Russia to act consistently with its international obligations and cease its illegal war in Ukraine," he added.
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