Controversial National MP Dr Jian Yang is backing Simon Bridges' fawning praise of the Chinese Government.
Last week, Dr Yang, Bridges and National foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee travelled to China. While there, the National Party leader appeared on state television channel CGTN for an interview.
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Bridges praised the Communist Party of China (CPC) for taking the country from mass poverty to economic prosperity.
"My impression is one of amazement... having been in both Shanghai and Beijing before, it is very different even from just a few years ago. It keeps developing, there is more infrastructure and you can feel the prosperity.
"The last 70 years in China has seen the most remarkable economic transformation in history. It has taken more people out of poverty than ever before."
Bridges' praise raised eyebrows back in New Zealand. David Capie, an associate professor of international relations at the Victoria University called the comments "extraordinary".
"Truly extraordinary comments about the Chinese Communist Party from NZ's Opposition Leader Simon Bridges in this interview with CGTN. Alarming to have such a big gap between govt & opposition views/language concerning such a critical relationship," Capie tweeted.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson called it the "most extraordinary interview I think I've ever seen the leader of a National Party give. His praise for the Chinese Communist Party went to a level that even the most loyal members of that party would struggle with".
But the National Party leader has the backing of Dr Yang - who admitted to once training Chinese spies.
In a WeChat article - with the heading "The interview of the party leader of the National Party in China was mocked" and translated from Chinese by Google - Dr Yang criticised Robertson, saying the Chinese Government's achievements were outstanding. Dr Yang cited World Bank data which shows between 1981 and 2015, a significant number of people were pulled out of poverty.
Dr Yang noted that German chancellor Angela Merkel also last week praised China's economic direction.
A press release from the German Federal Government says: "China has developed at meteoric speed over the last decades and many Chinese have been lifted out of poverty".
In the CGTN interview, Bridges said China was now New Zealand's biggest trading partner, worth $30 billion.
He said New Zealand enjoyed a "very strong" relationship with China as a trading partner.
"The transformation has been so dramatic," he said.
"We have felt the privilege of being able to have many firsts with your party and with your country... New Zealand has been a direct beneficiary of what has happened in China."
Dr Yang agreed in his article.
"China's development is an important factor in our victory over the financial crisis. The volume of new and medium trade has tripled since 2008 and currently exceeds NZ$30 billion."
Labour's Huo congratulates Bridges
Earlier this week, Labour MP Raymond Huo tweeted his congratulations to Bridges on his "successful visit to China".
"A strong & healthy NZ-China relation is not only good for our economy but also for cultural and people connections."
But he soon deleted that tweet, saying afterwards that Dr Yang was "running a campaigning in the community accusing Labour of 'mocking' his party for supporting China's success in lifting millions out of poverty [sic]".
"I twitted originally in a bipartisan spirit but... btw did you read his this article via WeChat! [sic]."
Despite his praise of China's economy, Bridges said on Tuesday that he disagrees with the Government on human rights.
"Of course, we'll push for rule of law. Of course, we don't like what's happening in Hong Kong and we want a peaceful resolution.
"But to run the woke line that some of you love so much on Twitter that that somehow means we shouldn't be visiting and we shouldn't be having a relationship with a superpower that we trade with more than any other country in the world, I think is pretty irresponsible."
Bridges said he "raised a variety of issues" on his trip to China. He said concerns about the internment camps located in China's Xinjiang province "came up briefly".
An estimated one million ethnic Muslims are detained in Chinese camps in Xinjiang, and reports say people are being returned to China against their will from abroad.
Bridges said he is concerned about the camps, and said New Zealand "clearly has a different view on these things and we raise them from time to time".
New Zealand, along with 21 countries including Japan, Australia, Canada and the UK, issued a joint statement in July condemning the Xinjiang detention centres.