'Grounds to be concerned' about NZ-China relationship - expert

On a scale of one to 10 - one being everything's fine, and 10 a crisis - the head of a trade group devoted to improving New Zealand's relationship with China says we're at "about a seven".

National Party leader Simon Bridges has claimed several Government MPs have been denied entry to the Middle Kingdom, unable to get visas approved.

He told The AM Show on Monday they include Corrections and Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Trade Minister David Parker - but former National Party MP and current Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was to blame.

"People say it's all about Huawei, but you've also got to say what you've got going on here is Winston Peters who's been shooting not from the hip but from his lips, who's been spouting off intemperate stuff about China for over a year. It all adds up.

"On top of that you've got a Prime Minister who won't control him, who hasn't got up there [to China], and now we see look, a series of things that mean the relationship's got some very real problems... I blame Winston Peters for what's going on, but she also has fault."

Foreign Minister Winston Peters has denied the claims, telling RNZ last week Mr Bridges "made that up" without any proof.

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show

Stephen Jacobi - head of the NZ China Council - says while there are "some grounds to be concerned" about New Zealand's relationship with China, it's not as bad "as some people would have us believe".

"I think it's always extremely difficult to decipher exactly what is going on. It's just not a very transparent place, by definition, and we need to read the tea leaves very carefully. Above all, we don't need to panic."

Instead of blaming an individual, he says New Zealand's small size means we'll struggle to get preferential treatment from China - a country with 300 times as many people.

"We're a small country. Let's face it. When the Prime Minister wanted to go last year... the Japanese Prime Minister decided to visit," he told The AM Show.

"The two dates were the same. We're always going to find that problem... not so much that the Chinese are going to do bad things to us, but they won't do the things that we want them to."

Stephen Jacobi.
Stephen Jacobi. Photo credit: The AM Show

Asked why ministers under John Key and Helen Clark didn't have trouble getting China's attention, Mr Jacobi blamed the changing times.

"Geopolitical issues are arising, everybody wants to be at China's door. We had some advantages as a result of our [free-trade agreement] - times have changed."

In recent months a number of Western countries have banned Chinese telco giant Huawei from being involved in the construction of next-generation communications networks, such as 5G mobile technology, fearing the company's systems could be used for espionage by the one-party state.

Mr Jacobi said we shouldn't compromise on security just to please China, even if it would ease tensions.

"Some of those decisions are decisions we have to make in New Zealand's interests - I have no problem with that. We make decisions here for the New Zealand people and for the best thing for our country, but we need to invest in explaining that better in China."

Mr Bridges has previously said there is "no smoking gun" against Huawei, and not letting them bid for contracts could increase prices. On the other hand, National MP Judith Collins - who recently bettered her boss in a preferred Prime Minister poll - has said it would be "foolish" not to listen to the Government Communications Security Bureau, which blocked Huawei's bid.

Newshub understands Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will be publicly addressing Mr Bridges' visa claims on Monday afternoon.

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