Jacinda Ardern downplays NZ-China tension: 'Our relationship is complex'

Jacinda Ardern has downplayed apparent tension between China and New Zealand, after the superpower postponed a major tourism promotion. 

The 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism was set to launch at Wellington's Te Papa museum next week, but China has postponed the event, citing scheduling issues. 

Manager of tourism policy at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Richard Davies, announced that China had "advised that this event has had to be postponed due to changes of schedule on the Chinese side."

The Prime Minister said she's not concerned about the rescheduling of the event, telling The AM Show on Tuesday, "That's the explanation we've been given, so work is still being done to find a new date."

"When I'm given a reason, it is not for me to question that - I need to take that at face value, and we have."

Ms Ardern was also scheduled to visit China last year but the invitation was put on hold, prompting suspicion that China may have taken offence to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) warning against Huawei building Spark's 5G mobile network.  

Spark wanted to start using Huawei cellphone tower equipment from 2020, and notified director-general of the GCSB Andrew Hampton about the proposal, as is required by law.

And after carrying out an assessment, the GCSB in November identified major network security risks if the technology was to be implemented.

When asked if the GCSB's warning had offended China, the Prime Minister said there is "no doubt our relationship with China is complex, there is no doubt the relationship comes with its challenges, as our relationships with a range of countries will from time to time". 

But she said that "doesn't undermine the strength of it, the maturity of it, and I have to say, on some of things that have been raised to me, like Huawei, which is a decision that's still underway, we need to make sure that we maintain our independent foreign policy".

She said the decision was "governed by regulation that exists and was established by the last government to protect New Zealanders' security".

"It is agnostic about country and vendor; it goes through a process to assess any change like the introduction of 5G."

She said the GCSB's warning, citing "significant security risks", is now up to Spark to address. 

"I would like to think that New Zealanders would want us to go through that process."

Political commentator Richard Harman said last year that the New Zealand-China relationship could be damaged because of the GCSB's warning in November. 

"The worst case scenario might be that they might try and restrain Chinese students who come here for education," he said. 

"They might, at the very worst case scenario, take New Zealand off the preferred list of tourist destinations."