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Under China's shadow, New Zealand signs free trade pact with Taiwan

New Zealand on Wednesday signed a free trade agreement with Taiwan in a deliberately low-key ceremony designed to demonstrate Wellington's fealty to its formal relations with mainland China, now its largest trading partner.

The location of the signing ceremony — a Wellington university — and the absence of senior officials on either the New Zealand or the Taiwanese sides underscored New Zealand's interest in maintaining its increasingly important ties with Beijing.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, and the Chinese government goes out of its way to pressure other countries to give short shrift to Taiwanese attempts to expand the democratic island's international profile.

In contrast to New Zealand, the deal was widely trumpeted in Taiwan, which is keen to break out of its China-imposed diplomatic isolation.