Govt plays down China concerns despite export fears

Author
Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald ,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 12 February 2019, 6:37p.m.
Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern have brushed aside concerns around our relationship with China.

The Government has been forced on the defensive over its diplomatic relationship with China, despite fears from exporters over the future of the Free Trade Deal.

The Opposition says a series of issues are threatening relations between the two nations, continue to mount, but Foreign Minister Winston Peters said China and New Zealand's relationship was "excellent".

He talked up the relationship between the two nations when facing questions on several issues yesterday, such as China postponing the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism event at Te Papa museum next week.

In fact, Peters put distance between the Government and the event.

He said that it was a tourism idea left by a man called "Mr Spray and walk away" – a reference to former Prime Minister John Key.

"As to the plans and as what to be done, it was never ours in the first place – we'll get around that."

Although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand still puts a lot of effort into its relationship with China, she admitted that there were "some challenges" in the relationship.

Those challenges, she said, included questions over the Huawei decision.

Late last year, the GCSB turned down the bid for Spark to use Huawei equipment in its 5G network.

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.

But when pressed as to whether this issue had come up through diplomatic channels, or whether there had been any political blowback from China, Ardern refused to answer questions from media.

"We have a separate process that isn't guided by politicians – it's guided by the law," she said, adding that the Huawei issue was "not an issue of diplomacy."

She said she hadn't spoken directly to any Chinese political leadership about the Huawei decision, and added that she said she hasn't been "privy to every exchange" over the issue.

The tensions come at a time when New Zealand is re-negotiating parts of the Free Trade Deal with China.

Export New Zealand’s Catherine Beard told Larry Williams that she has checked in today and has been told that negotiations are “quite close” to the deal being resolved.

“We’ll just have to wait and see, because if it happens in a month or two, that’s great, but if we’re still having this conversation in six to eight months, then we’ll probably say that it’s not great.”

She says that the upgrade should give us more access for tariff-free dairy to meet rising volumes, and the forestry industry also wants better access.

Beard says that the Huawei issue is making exporters nervous. She says that there is a concern around the lack of transparency around how the ban against Huawei unfolded.

Meanwhile, National Leader Simon Bridges suggested an Air New Zealand flight, which was forced to return mid-flight on its way to China on Monday, could be part of an "ongoing deterioration in relations between this Government and China".

He said Peters was to blame for what he called a "steadily deteriorating relationship" between the two countries.

Bridges said the Prime Minister does still need to take some accountability because she had "failed to control what has happened" to New Zealand's foreign affairs agenda.

Peters, who said he had received a briefing on the issue, said it had "nothing whatsoever" to do with media reports the aircraft had been turned around because some of its paperwork included a reference to Taiwan.

He echoed Air NZ's official explanation that the saga was a result of an "administrative issue".

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