(Bloomberg) -- Beijing has reminded Wellington of New Zealand’s reliance on China as a trading partner, saying the South Pacific nation’s positive clean, green brand shouldn’t be “taken for granted.”

“In China, there is widespread cognizance of New Zealand as a green, clean, open and friendly country,” China’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Wang Xiaolong, said in a speech posted late Wednesday on the Embassy’s website. “This very positive national branding is one of the most valuable assets of our relationship, and arguably the most potent marketing tool for all products and services from New Zealand,” he said, adding both countries should “make sure it will not be squandered.” 

The ambassador’s comments come as New Zealand expresses concern over China’s recent economic and diplomatic approaches to a number of Pacific Island nations. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who this week met with US President Joe Biden, has cautioned against militarization in the region and questioned China’s intentions.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner, buying 30% of all exports and supplying 24% of imports. It was also a major source of tourists and international students before the pandemic.

Wang said despite the deep economic relationship between the two countries, “all is not rosy.” 

“The relationship has got its fair share of challenges, the foremost of which is the way we address the differences between us,” he said. “It is no surprise, nor any secret that some of these differences are inevitable, given the divergence between us in historical and cultural backgrounds and levels of economic development.”

Wang said the best way to handle these challenges is through dialog on the basis of mutual respect, mutual understanding and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

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