Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson is seeking "more information" on the Government's possible financial link to a Chinese company accused of spying on Uighurs in China.
A Stuff Circuit investigation has found that iFlytek, a partially state-owned Chinese tech company blacklisted by the US for its alleged surveillance of Uighurs, is linked to Auckland tech firm Rocos, which the Government has invested in.
It's estimated more than a million Uighurs - a mostly Muslim Turkic minority group that number about 11 million in China's Xinjiang region - have been detained in camps, which have been widely condemned as akin to prisons.
China initially denied the camps but now claims they provide classes on Mandarin, laws, regulations and vocational skills, as well as counterterrorism training and psychological counselling for those affected by extremist thoughts.
But former detainees have spoken of torture and brainwashing at the facilities, and women being forcibly sterilised. In July 2019, a Uyghur man in New Zealand told Newshub Nation he feared for his safety after receiving threatening phone calls from the Chinese Embassy.
The BBC has gathered testimonies from women who spent time in the camps, detailing allegations of gang rape and sexual abuse. Stuff Circuit has now spoken to Kiwi Uighurs too afraid to contact their families for fear of retribution from China.
Robertson said on Tuesday he wants to know more about the Government's investment in Rocos, which signed a multi-year research agreement in August 2019 with surveillance equipment maker iFlytek.
The Chinese company was blacklisted by the US in October last year. Human Rights Watch presented research in 2017 based on China's own documentation of the company's collaboration with security agencies to collect voice samples from Uighurs.
iFlytek was one of a group of Chinese firms barred from buying equipment from US companies without approval, as punishment for Beijing's treatment of Muslim minorities.
As iFlytek is an exclusive supplier of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Rocos was offered the opportunity to demonstrate its tech innovation at the event.
The Government has a shareholding in Rocos through the Aspire NZ Seed Fund, which invests $20 million a year in tech start-ups and provides around $700,000 a year in funding to Icehouse Ventures through Callaghan Innovation.
The Government has a 3.5 percent stake in Rocos.
"Certainly it's something I'm looking for more information about. What I've read so far indicates to me we're talking about quite an arm's length situation. The New Zealand Government's not directly funding the firm," Robertson said.
"We've got a situation where some funding from the venture fund's seed funding and perhaps some stuff through the Icehouse Incubator might've reached the New Zealand company that has a relationship with the Chinese company."
He said it would take "a little bit of work to identify" what the links are.
"Certainly the question I would be asking... is to the venture investment fund, what policies do you have in this area? I certainly want that answer. It's about understanding what their policies are in that area."
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said: "Those are matters for individual companies to determine. But obviously many are now resetting their investment decisions based on ethical decision-making practices."
Rocos told Stuff Circuit it's no longer involved in any projects with iFlytek and there are no future projects planned. It said its platform was never integrated with iFlytek's voice interaction system.
Icehouse Ventures said its connection to iFlytek is subject to an investigation, and the board has requested guidance from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over the US and other countries' blacklist of iFlytek.
New Zealand is yet to declare the alleged mistreatment of Uighurs in China as genocide. Canada, the United States and the Netherlands have done so.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Chris Seed told a parliamentary committee last month that discussions with China are "ongoing" about a visit by New Zealand diplomats to Xinjiang to assess the situation.