27 Jun 2023

Nanaia Mahuta: China meeting was 'robust'

8:38 pm on 27 June 2023
Nanaia Mahuta

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta says a meeting she had in March was "robust", rejecting the more colourful descriptions of an Australian newspaper.

The Australian recently reported Mahuta was "harangued for a whole hour" by her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang after pushing back on his "Wolf Warrior" approach during her visit to the country in March.

She rejected the newspaper's description of the meeting.

"Look, that's the Australian characterisation and they're used to those types of references, I would say it was a robust discussion and I'm not recoiling from that because we're able to have a robust discussion in a mature relationship and in a way that doesn't recuse ourselves from putting forward the issues that are most of interest to New Zealand - and we did just that.

"We certainly made very clear the issues that were of most concern to New Zealand. I've discussed that in the public domain: we've discussed russia and Ukraine, discussed South China Sea, Taiwan Strait, a number of issues in terms of the matters that I've consistently reflected in the New Zealand context."

"I would say that China's very assertive in the way that it conveys its interests."

Mahuta said a planned trip to Australia this week was postponed due to "scheduling issues".

She would not comment on whether that included Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' upcoming face-to-face meeting with China's President Xi Jinping.

"There are a range of things we take into account sequencing our meetings, making sure that we're able to have fully the conversation that needs to be had - but in this instance it is a scheduling issue.

"We're looking to reschedule very soon, we want to make sure that we're having a full conversation about the issues that are important between us."

She expected Hipkins' meeting with Xi would be similarly robust.

"It will be a robust discussion but that's the nature of a mature relationship is we don't have to recoil from saying the things that need to be said.

"I would like to continue to see the strengthening of a relationship with China where we can have economic growth, cultural connections, where our people-to-people connections are still live and vibrant, and we're also able to signal to our exporting community it's a China-And strategy, in terms of economic trade and growth."

Hipkins was well aware of the context of the meeting in March, she said.

National Party foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee largely agreed with Mahuta over the meeting.

"I've read the story ... I'm sure there was an exchange, and it would have been vigorous both ways."

Gerry Brownlee

Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I believe New Zealand does a good job in pushing the Chinese position - ah, sorry, our position, with the Chinese - we certainly in my experience do raise those human rights issues."

He did not think the delay to Mahuta's trans-Tasman trip was a big deal.

"I don't think we should read too much into that, it's just part of it. Remember that we can have those sort of squabbles with Australia, we're pretty much cousins."

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