Wellington, Mar 25 (AFP) New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday that a long-awaited trip to China will take place next week, but had been shortened in the wake of the Christchurch mosque killings. Ardern said she would travel to Beijing on Sunday then hold a full day of meetings Monday with the leaders of New Zealand's largest trading partner, including President Xi Jinping, before returning home the next day.
She said she did not want to spend too long away from New Zealand as it continues to mourn the March 15 shootings at two Christchurch mosques that claimed 50 lives. "It was originally intended to be a longer visit, including a business delegation, but under the circumstances that did not seem appropriate to be away for longer," she told reporters.
It will be Ardern's first visit to China since she was elected in late 2017 -- an unusually long wait for the leader of a nation that signed a pioneering free-trade deal with Beijing in 2008. There were fears that Beijing had postponed the trip amid strained relations after New Zealand's intelligence agency last November halted plans for Chinese-owned Huawei to participate in a proposed 5G network, citing "significant security risks".
Ardern has repeatedly played down the Huawei spat and did not directly address it on Monday. "This is an important visit, New Zealand places a high priority on our relationship with China," she said. "I look forward to our ongoing engagement." She said discussion items would include upgrading the bilateral free trade deal and combatting climate change.