Simon Bridges says he is "no apologist for China" in his defence of an interview he gave Chinese state media during his visit to the superpower.
The National leader's interview with state-owned news channel CGTN made world news. The Guardian highlighted how Bridges said he was "amazed" by China's prosperity.
When asked about his comments on Monday, Bridges told Magic Talk: "I'm no apologist for China, but I also think we've got an incredibly important relationship."
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Bridges praised the Communist Party of China (CCP) for taking the country from mass poverty to economic prosperity in the state media interview, calling it an "amazing story".
He told Magic Talk a communist system is not something he would choose for New Zealand, but said it has "lifted hundreds and hundreds of millions of people out of poverty" in China.
"I think there are some really good things that have happened in China over the last 70 years... I obviously entirely disagree with them when it comes to issues of human rights," Bridges said.
"And by the way, in that interview, you've heard half of it. They took out half."
A spokesperson confirmed to Newsroom that had been the case but said there had been no tampering, and it was in line with standard New Zealand media practice.
Bridges also doubled down on his defence of meeting with Guo Shengkun who is responsible for China's Ministry of State Security (MSS), described as a combination of the CIA and FBI.
Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on Chinese politics, tweeted about the meeting, describing Shengkun as "in charge of China's secret police".
Bridges pushed back on that description last week, saying it was an "unfair characterisation" of the man he met.
He told Magic Talk he "didn't know" about the "secret police" references to Shengkun "until it came out on Twitter".
He added: "That's obviously the Anne-Marie Brady version of life and events."
Brady has warned Parliament about the CCP's foreign interference agenda to bring the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand "under control".
Bridges said the main focus of the meeting with Shengkun was to discuss the relationship between China and New Zealand, such as trade and new opportunities.
He said he discussed areas of concern where he could, such as the tense relations between China and Hong Kong, and secretive camps in China's Xinjiang province reportedly holding Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities captive.
"Where I had the opportunities in meetings about Hong Kong, about Uyghurs, about these things to the extent they came up, I made quite clear we have an independent foreign policy," Bridges said.
"Sometimes we agree with the US, sometimes we agree with China, and we think rules of law and human rights and democratic norms are important.
Bridges said if New Zealand wants to continue to have prosperity, "we've got to trade" with China.
He said that doesn't make him an "apologist" for China, but it "does mean we have a mature and sensible relationship with China, with India, with the United States and other countries".
Bridges said the US-China trade war is the "single biggest issue in the world today" and New Zealand needs to figure out where it stands on it.