13 Mar 2019

National doubts China tourism event delayed due to 'scheduling'

1:05 pm on 13 March 2019

The National Party is warning that tensions remain in the government's relationship with China despite a major joint tourism event getting back on track.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The official launch of the China New Zealand Year of Tourism in Wellington was postponed last month but the government has announced it will now happen at the end of March.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the delay was caused by a scheduling problem, and not by tensions with China.

But the National Party's trade spokesperson, Todd McClay, said the launch event had been planned for two years and he doubted the change of dates was due to a clash in someone's diary.

"The Prime Minister needs to explain exactly what's going on with the relationship, why after only a year-and-a-half in government we got to this position. If she is saying that it was only scheduling and there's nothing else going on, the real question is why hasn't she visited China yet. She's the first Prime Minister since before Robert Muldoon not to visit China in their first year in office."

Mr McClay said the government did not need to agree to every Chinese demand but it did need to establish a good relationship.

New Zealand China Council executive director Stephen Jacobi said he was surprised when the event was initially deferred, but the government's announcement was good news.

"It is a Chinese minister who is coming to New Zealand to lead the Chinese delegation, I think that's extremely positive," he said.

"In the last few weeks we've been saying it was too early to judge that the relationship was in serious trouble and we had to wait and see whether the event was rescheduled, well it now has been rescheduled and that means that it's back to business in the relationship between New Zealand and China."

Mr Jacobi said the council has not seen any evidence that the delay in scheduling the event was due to tensions with China.

However, he said there were some things that the Chinese were not particularly happy about and the relationship needed to be managed carefully.

"I don't think it is in relation to the debate about Chinese influence so much. I think it is more to do with the strategic defence policy statement and the decisions that have been made, at least at this point, in relation to Huawei," Mr Jacobi said.

"We need to realise that there are some things the Chinese are not particularly happy about with New Zealand at the moment and we therefore have to manage the relationship carefully. It doesn't mean we always have to do what they want, but we do have to think about things we can do together, including in the critical area of tourism," he said.

"We are going to disagree from time to time, there are going to be disappointments but the relationship has to go on."

Ms Ardern said the tourism launch would be hosted by the Chinese government at Te Papa with a delegation led by the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr Luo Shugang.

Ms Ardern said she was not frustrated by the delay in setting a date for her visit to China.

"The invitation was extended some time ago and we've been working on both sides to find a mutually convenient time for the visit," she said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs