National leader Simon Bridges is rejecting the claim he met with the head of China's "secret police", saying that is an "unfair characterisation" of the man he met.
Bridges was back in Wellington on Tuesday following his five-day visit to the superpower, where he met with Guo Shengkun who is responsible for the Ministry of State Security (MSS).
MSS is China's intelligence and security agency. The US Department of Justice has described it as being like a combination of the CIA and FBI.
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Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on Chinese politics, tweeted about Bridges' meeting on Sunday, describing Shengkun as "in charge of China's secret police".
Bridges was asked about his interaction with Shengkun ahead of his caucus meeting. He rejected the "secret police" description and suggested it was irresponsible.
"I met with a Politburo member who is really the most senior representative I met with. I don't think that's a fair and accurate characterisation of the man," Bridges said.
"Be a bit responsible."
The Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China (CCP) is a group of 25 people who oversee the party, and it's led by general-secretary Xi Jinping.
"You're coming in about this guy saying he's the secret police guy. What he is is one of the leaders of China in the top 25 who is their justice and law and order spokesperson," Bridges said.
He said he doesn't agree with everything China does, but said the country is "incredibly important" for New Zealand, as our most significant trading partner.
During an interview with state-owned news channel CGTN, Bridges praised the CCP for taking the country from mass poverty to economic prosperity, calling it an "amazing story".
He reiterated that view on Tuesday, saying the Chinese story is "the most remarkable economic transformation story" in history.
"They have taken hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty, from not having food in their belly, to a situation today of relative prosperity," Bridges said.
"Of course, we disagree with them 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."
Finance Minister Grant Robertson mocked the interview in Parliament, describing it as the "most extraordinary interview I think I've ever seen the leader of a National Party give".
Robertson said Bridges' "praise for the Chinese Communist Party went to a level that even the most loyal members of that party would struggle with".
Bridges said he "raised a variety of issues" on his trip to China. He said concerns about the re-education camps located in China's Xinjiang province "came up briefly".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also said she raised the issue when she met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing in April.
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 re-education camps in Xinjiang, 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.