Jumping on board China's ambitious Belt and Road initiative is a way to deepen the relationship with New Zealand, says Trade Minister David Parker, despite fears the plan could pull developing countries into debt traps.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through overland corridors and shipping lanes. The infrastructure initiative extended into a proposed economic connectivity of bilateral commitments of trade and investment.
The NZ China Council stated New Zealand could benefit through optimising trade facilitation of bio-security and customs enhancement, the creative sector and innovation, as well as New Zealand being the connecting country between China and South America.
Trade Minister David Parker, fresh from the Belt and Road forum in Beijing where Chinese President Xi Jinping attempted to quell fears it would lock countries into repressive debt cycles, spoke on TVNZ1's Q+A about what the initiative would mean.
"It's clear China are using the Belt and Road umbrella to cover more initiatives than infrastructure, so there probably is a route through for New Zealand," he said.
On New Zealand potentially being a transportation hub for exports between China and South America, Mr Parker said there had been discussions "but not necessarily within the framing of Belt and Road".
Auckland and Christchurch airport were interested in improving the connectivity, however there had been "mixed messages" from some airlines in China that did not think it was cost effective.
He said China was a "really important trading relationship with New Zealand".
"It's another way to deepen our relationship to China. Belt and Road is very important to the Chinese Government."
Mr Parker said the Belt and Road initiative "started out really focused on infrastructure, which wasn't really relevant to New Zealand's interest or trading relationship with China because we've already got pretty good infrastructure".
"Now they're broadening it out... things like how can they improve their business systems."
Mr Parker said the level of detail of specific projects had not yet been discussed, but the prospect of an MOU with the Chinese Government was edging closer.
He had asked for more detail on ease of business, transparency, and how New Zealand can 'green' the Belt and Road.
For New Zealand: "You're not going to see infrastructure projects, hopefully you'll see better cooperation in the Pacific."
On the unwillingness of countries such as Australia to join the Belt and Road initiative, Mr Parker said, "We'll see how it unfolds."
The ABC also reported US officials warned about the possibility of political motives of China using the Belt and Road initiative.
National's Amy Adams also told Q+A when the previous Government signed the non-binding Memorandum of Arrangement with China to support the initiative, "it was the start of a piece of work, we were working actively on that".
"With this new Government they've spent two years ragging on this, not having any idea what it is about, the deputy Prime Minister being very, very negative on it."
"Now David Parker seems to have woken up and decided China does matter. David Parker has told us it's important to him, I don't know if he's told Winston Peters that," Ms Adams said.
Earlier this month, Asia New Zealand Foundation's executive director Simon Draper spoke on Jacinda Ardern's recent trip to China, saying the Prime Minister recognised the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative was significant in the relationship.