Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirms China trip amid speculation of soured relations

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she will travel to China on Sunday to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.   

Her scheduled visit to China was last year put on hold, prompting speculation China may have taken offence to the Government Security Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) warning against Spark using Huawei's equipment for 5G.

"I have cut it back to one day of meetings," she said of her trip, citing her commitments to New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack. It was intended to be a longer trip but under the circumstances it "didn't seem appropriate".

Ardern will meet Premier Li Keqiang during the trip. She will return to New Zealand on Tuesday after her one-day visit on Monday.

Earlier this month Ardern confirmed the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism launch event in Wellington would go ahead after it was postponed in February by China. She has consistently brushed off suspicion that relations between the two countries have soured. 

Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo credit: Getty

The controversy goes back to July last year when the New Zealand Defence Force explicitly named China as a threat that challenged international governance values and norms.  

Then in November, the GCSB identified major network security risks in Chinese company Huawei's equipment after telecom operator Spark notified the government agency, as is required by law, that it wanted to use the technology for 5G. 

Talk of a rift between China and New Zealand was exacerbated by recent Chinese newspaper articles that speculated there were tensions. An article published in the China People's Daily, considered a mouthpiece for the Chinese state, claimed tourists were turning away from New Zealand. 

Another article published in the Global Times, also considered a Chinese government mouthpiece, warned New Zealand against the Government's "unethical" behaviour towards Huawei, and said the Government's recent actions went against New Zealand's interests.