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China has urged New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to exercise “discretion” during his visit to China that started Sunday — an apparent attempt by Beijing to wield its considerable economic leverage in its dispute over the contested South China Sea.

In an editorial published Sunday by China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Beijing said the focus of the trip by Key should be “more on economic ties and less on the South China Sea issue,” which it said “is of no concern for Wellington.”

Highlighting the importance of Oceanian countries, Xinhua touted China’s economic ties with New Zealand — the first developed nation to sign a free trade deal with Beijing — but noted that relations between the two countries “haven’t been entirely rosy” recently.

“Key should be reminded that New Zealand is an absolute outsider in the dispute and not a concerned party,” Xinhua said in the editorial addressing the South China Sea. Any attempt “to break its promise not to take sides on the issue would risk complicating … flourishing trade ties.

“Wellington is advised to be more discreet in its words and actions,” Xinhua said.

During a meeting in February, Key and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged Beijing to refrain from stoking tensions in the waters claimed by five other nations where China has unleashed massive land-reclamation projects and built military-grade facilities.

At the February talks, Key said that New Zealand was leveraging its relationship with China in order to urge measures to lower tensions.

However, strains over the South China Sea have grown in the months since, with the U.S. beefing up its presence in the region and New Zealand and Australia also taking stronger positions against China’s moves in the waters.

Last month, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully offered what David Capie, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, said were McCully’s first public comments on the South China Sea issue. These included remarks on the upcoming ruling on the case at The Hague over China’s “nine-dash line” claims to most of the South China Sea.

“New Zealand has not been voluble when it has come to this dispute,” Capie wrote on the website Incline, which discuses issues affecting the New Zealand’s international relations.

“But over the last year, as tensions have risen, it has cautiously found its voice,” Capie wrote. “Mr. McCully’s recent speeches represent a significant if incremental extension of New Zealand’s position.”

Most importantly among these recent comments, said Capie, has been Wellington’s clearer stance on the nine-dash line ruling, which is expected to be handed down in the coming weeks.

“New Zealand wanted to make its position on the Philippines’ … case absolutely clear before the decision is announced in the middle of the year,” said Capie. “If the … decision goes against China, as many predict, then Beijing can’t say it is surprised if New Zealand joins calls for it to follow the ruling.”

The Xinhua editorial also lashed out at New Zealand’s “baffling” participation in joint military exercises in the South China Sea that kicked off the same day as Key’s visit began.

It said the war game’s timetable, which overlaps with Key’s weeklong trip, “raises suspicions,” despite official denials out of Wellington that the exercises are not provocative.

New Zealand defense chief Gerry Brownlee told The New Zealand Herald on Wednesday that the exercises, in which the country’s P-3K2 Orion surveillance aircraft were to participate, would not be taking place in any of the waters disputed by China.

Brownlee told the Herald that the precise location of the exercise was “somewhat classified,” but added: “I can assure you it is not taking place in disputed sea or airspace.”

New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Britain will take part in the drills,which were to be held in the South China Sea, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore from April 17 to 29.

Key’s visit comes just two days after a trip by Turnbull, who led one of the largest-ever business delegations to China and inked a raft of deals with the country, Australia’s largest trading partner.

Prior to his visit, Turnbull also received a similarly stern warning from Chinese state media, which said “Canberra must choose between economic interests, toeing U.S. line” on the South China Sea.

Key’s trip, which is due to wrap up Friday, is also likely to focus on trade. New Zealand government figures show that China has been its largest trading partner since 2013.

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