PRIME Minister Jacinda Ardern is playing down any suggestions New Zealand’s diplomatic relationship with China is on the rocks but admits the two nations were facing some ‘challenges’.
Ardern was this morning grilled on a number of issues relating to New Zealand’s relationship with China.
This morning it was revealed the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, which was meant to be launched at Te Papa museum next week, was postponed by China.
Richard Davies, manager of tourism policy at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, told the Herald: “China has advised that this event has had to be postponed due to changes of schedule on the Chinese side.”
Philip Burdon, a former National government trade minister and recently chairman of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, said the implications for New Zealand ‘are dangerous at every level’.
Speaking to ZB this morning, Ardern questioned Burdon – ‘my question to him is, what has he seen here that he thinks is putting that [relationship] at risk?’
She said New Zealand still puts a lot of effort into its relationship with China, but is ‘at the same time facing some challenges’.
“But in a way I think that preserves New Zealand’s independent foreign policy.”
The Prime Minister was meant to visit China last year, but the trip was postponed.
She said she still planned to go to China, but a date has not been set and would not speculate as to when she might be going.
Ardern’s predecessor John Key used to go to China every year during his time as Prime Minister.
But Ardern said she did not want to set that expectation.
She said the Government sent a number of ministers to China last year – Foreign Minister Winston Peters visited China midway through the year.
“Those exchanges are happening with our Government, it’s just that I don’t want to set an expectation that I go somewhere every single year.”
She stressed that the diplomatic relationship with China was important, but acknowledged there were some challenges.
When asked what those challenges are, Ardern said there were some questions over the Huawei decision.
Late last year, the GCSB turned down the Chinese-owned Telco’s bid for Spark to use Huawei equipment in its 5G network.
But she said that decision was a normal part of the GCSB’s process when it comes to anything to do with New Zealand’s data and security.
On Monday, it was revealed an Air New Zealand flight was turned back from its trip to China because of a technicality.
The airline took responsibility and a spokeswoman said the problem was new to the route and hadn’t gained the necessary approval.
Opposition leader Simon Bridges was quick to speculate, questioning if the issue was part of an ‘ongoing deterioration in relations between this Government and China’.
Ardern denied this and said it was important not to conflate regulatory and administrative issues.