by Xinhua writer Tian Ye
WELLINGTON, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The importance of New Zealand does not diminish due to its remote location in the Southern Hemisphere, as it well deserves the title "pioneer of China-West cooperation."
As a member of the Western "camp," New Zealand has been working closely with China. With Chinese Premier Li Keqiang leaving his footprints in Oceania, New Zealand and China are going to press ahead with more practical cooperation.
When the two nations celebrate the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties this year, bilateral relations, which are going through a transitional period, will continue to flourish in the future, and this visit will, no doubt, push forward the development of their comprehensive strategic partnership in a new era.
China-New Zealand ties have achieved leapfrog development from the beginning thanks to the concerted efforts of both sides. Such relations have become a model of mutually beneficial cooperation between countries of different social systems and sizes.
New Zealand has been leading among developed countries in exchanges with China. It was among the first countries to acknowledge China's full market economy status, in reaching a bilateral free trade agreement, and in joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Such a relationship fully reflects the foresight and sagacity on the part of both leaders and governments, and is in line with the fundamental and long-term interests of New Zealand and China as well as the peoples of the two countries.
New Zealand is a "natural extension" of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, and China welcomes New Zealand's participation in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Over the past three years, the two countries have already reaped early harvests: China has become New Zealand's largest export destination, import source, and trade partner.
The practical cooperation in various fields between China and New Zealand has made remarkable progress, with bilateral trade exceeding 20 billion New Zealand dollars (14 billion U.S. dollars) last year, up nearly 5 percent year on year. Both sides are working steadily towards the goal of 30 billion New Zealand dollars (21 billion U.S. dollars) in 2020 set by the leaders of both sides.
On cultural exchanges, there have been many firsts, too. New Zealand was the first country to sign both film and TV cooperation deals in 2010 and 2014 respectively with China, and has conducted many cooperation programs with China in this field.
Furthermore, the two sides have reached agreements to set up a second Chinese cultural center, making New Zealand the first country in the world to have two Chinese cultural centers.
Thanks to their active promotion, bilateral cultural exchanges are booming, with various cultural activities and schools being introduced to New Zealand, such as Lantern Festival activities, the Chinese Week, and Chinese cultural centers, among others.
Moreover, China has been New Zealand's largest source of international students for more than a decade, with 31,000 Chinese students studying in various educational institutes last year.
The two countries have cooperated to build three Confucius Institutes and 30 Confucius Classrooms in New Zealand. More than 300 primary and middle schools in the country offer Mandarin courses, with more than 40,000 primary and middle school students learning Mandarin Chinese.
Meanwhile, New Zealand was the first country to establish an educational negotiation mechanism at the vice-ministerial level with China. The educational exchanges joint working group's consultation conferences between the two countries have gradually become institutionalized, and the two sides have signed a series of educational cooperation agreements.
Personnel exchanges between the two countries are becoming increasingly frequent, especially for the rising number of Chinese citizens visiting New Zealand. Statistics from the New Zealand government showed that the number of Chinese citizens arriving in New Zealand exceeded 400,000 in 2016.
China is New Zealand's second-largest source of overseas tourists, following Australia. It is estimated that with the deepening of China-New Zealand relations, China is expected to exceed Australia to become New Zealand's largest source of overseas tourists in 2020.
It is not difficult to foresee that Li's visit will greatly promote strategic mutual trust between the two countries, deepen their strategic cooperation, and inject new and forceful impetus into the development of bilateral relations.
Against the backdrop of a constantly changing international situation, Li's visit will help inspire the two countries to jointly pursue openness and win-win cooperation so as to strengthen global and regional confidence.