Chinese haven't forgotten 'Chinese-sounding names' insult - Collins

New Zealand's apparent tensions with China date back to the 'Chinese-sounding names' debacle, says Judith Collins.

The Opposition has warned in recent weeks of a growing rift between New Zealand and the one-party state, citing difficulties Government MPs have had getting into China and the rejection of Huawei's involvement in the 5G rollout.

National leader Simon Bridges earlier this week said it was mostly Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' fault, but Ms Collins on Friday placed the blame on Housing Minister Phil Twyford.

"All of you guys in Government… you went down this Chinese-sounding names nonsense for about two years before the election," she told Labour MP Kris Faafoi, appearing with her on The AM Show.

"A lot of it is about 'face' with the Chinese, about actually saving face and not insulting people."

In 2015, while in Opposition, Labour tried to estimate the proportion of Auckland homes being sold to offshore investors by looking at how many were being snapped up by people with so-called Chinese-sounding names. They came up with a figure of 40 percent, but the controversial approach was widely criticised as racist and a bad use of statistics.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in 2017 said it was never the intent to offend, but no longer felt comfortable with the approach.

Judith Collins on The AM Show with Kris Faafoi.
Judith Collins on The AM Show with Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: The AM Show

Mr Faafoi said it was four years ago now and people had moved on, but Ms Collins said the Chinese haven't forgotten.

"The Chinese Government is not going to sit there thinking that was only four years ago."

Ms Collins also suggested the refusal to let Huawei contribute to Spark's 5G rollout may have taken the Chinese by surprise.

"The Chinese will want to know something's happening before it happens… because otherwise they lose face. Other countries know that too," she said.

Many other countries have also moved to stop Huawei building their networks, fearing the company is a tool of the Chinese state.

"The Five Eyes agreement and partnership that we are, as a little teeny country, very lucky to be a part of, that is our most important security arrangement," said Ms Collins, who has previously said it would be "foolish" not to listen to our own intelligence agencies' warnings on China.

"It means we have to be very careful in what we do and be very nuanced and careful, because we have a big trading partner and we have a big security partner."

Asked by AM Show host Duncan Garner what her contacts in China were saying about the relationship between our two countries, Ms Collins said she didn't have any contacts in China - despite her husband being a director of a company which has business dealings in China, and her own controversial visits to the Middle Kingdom while a minister.