China’s Xi uses Māori proverb in COVID speech.

By Will Trafford

China’s Premier Xi Jinping has used a te ao Māori whakataukī (proverb) to encourage cooperation on the global recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Appearing at a virtual meeting of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders this weekend Xi said "There is a Māori saying in New Zealand, 'Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you' (Te tiro atu tō kanohi ki tairāwhiti ana tērā whiti te rā kite ataata ka hinga ki muri ki a koe)."

"Let us stand with each other in solidarity, promote anti-Covid cooperation and economic recovery, and work for a bright future of prosperity for all in the Asia-Pacific region," Xi said.

The unscheduled virtual Covid-centric meeting was hosted by Aotearoa and led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

During his speech Xi touted China’s contribution to the global effort to fight Covid-19, saying it had contributed 500 million doses of vaccines to developing nations. It also announced plans to contribute $4.2 billion in aid in the next three years.

Xi’s speech comes at a contentious time for China and its foreign relations, particularly over the coronavirus.

Aussie dispute

Australia has demanded an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, citing theories the virus could have leaked from a laboratory near the Wuhan wet market where the virus was first discovered.

The request was supported by allies in the UK, the US, Japan and the EU. Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta backed the demand soon after that but has also markedly refused to sign additional joint letters by Five Eyes spying network partners (the US, the UK, Canada and Australia) pressuring Beijing on issues like Hong Kong and mistreatment of indigenous (Uyghur) Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region.

“We would much rather prefer to look for multilateral opportunities to express our interests on a number of issues,” Mahuta said at the time.

China has levelled tariffs on Australian exports of everything from beef to barley and wine. It has levelled retaliatory tariffs against the United States also.

An editorial in the Global Times newspaper (seen as the voice of the Chinese Communist Party) claims New Zealand will "gain from Australia’s loss in China" and the country’s approach serves as a ‘"lesson for other US allies."

Took aim at West

Amid increasing tariffs and political criticism from the US, Xi used his prerecorded speech in front of the 21 member countries to lobby for a free-trade agreement within the region "at an early date."

The Associated Press reports Xi also took aim at the West’s banning of Chinese technology companies such as telecommunications company Huawei, saying ‘win-win cooperation is the only way forward,' while a closed-door policy of ‘exclusion and confrontation’ would lead to a ‘dead end’.

Other leaders appearing at the conference included US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Biden reiterated America’s commitment to donate half a billion vaccines of its own to more than 100 countries. He also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the recently announced ‘Build Back Better’ world partnership which he says will provide ‘high-standard, climate-aligned, and transparently financed’ infrastructure to Apec economies in need of support.

Prime Minister Ardern has said as host nation of this year’s online Apec summits, Aotearoa’s priority will be ‘bringing the region together to promote an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery’ from the Covid-19 crisis.