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This morning, Ardern repeatedly refused to answer questions as to whether Beijing had applied political pressure on New Zealand because of the GCSB’s decision to block a 5G partnership between Spark and Huawei.
“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”.
“The message that I continue to share is it’s entirely separate from our diplomatic relationship,” she said at another point when asked the same question.
She said she hadn’t spoken directly to any Chinese political leadership about the Huawei decision.
Asked again, she said she hasn’t been “privy to every exchange”.
Ardern and the Government have come under considerable pressure on what appears to be a deteriorating relationship with China.
The Herald this morning 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.
Ardern has also been unsuccessful in attempts to schedule a diplomatic visit to China, although she said officials are still working on nailing down dates.
As well as this, yesterday an Air New Zealand aircraft was turned around mid-flight on its way to China.
The airline took responsibility and a spokeswoman said the problem was the aircraft was new to the route, and hadn’t gained the necessary approval.
This morning, Stuff reported the aircraft was turned around because some of its paperwork included a reference to Taiwan – China does not formally recognise Taiwan as a country.
But Foreign Minister Winston Peters this morning denied these claims and said this had “nothing whatsoever” to do with why the flight was turned around, adding that reports to the contrary were just “speculation”.
Peters said he had received a briefing on why the Air NZ flight was turned around.
He said he was told Air NZ failed to report a change of aeroplane type and make the appropriate applications.
“As a consequence, with China being very strict on these matters, the flight had to be turned around,” he told the Herald.
“They have admitted it, they owned up to it.”
Meanwhile, National Leader Simon Bridges said Peters was to blame for what he called a “steadily deteriorating relationship” between New Zealand and China.
But he said the Prime Minister does still have to take some accountability because she had “failed to control what has happened” to New Zealand’s foreign affairs agenda.
He again used the Air NZ flight being turned around as an example of how the relationship was under pressure.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of exactly what’s happened there, but you have got to say it’s getting harder to say that it’s not diplomatic at some level.”