Trade Minister dismisses 60 Minutes 'New Xi-Land' promo as just 'banter', admits mistake in telling Australia to show China 'respect'

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor has said in hindsight, he probably shouldn't have told Australia to "show respect" to China.

The relationship between our two biggest trading partners has deteriorated lately, and O'Connor's comments - made in January - were met with disbelief across the ditch. 

This week Australian current affairs show 60 Minutes released a promo for an upcoming story which asks "just what are the Kiwis up to now?" and questions if New Zealand is turning into "New Xi-Land", a play on Chinese President Xi Jinping's name. 

"We thought they were our best friends, but it looks like they've ditched us for a fast Chinese buck," a voiceover booms. 

Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday, O'Connor was reminded exactly what it was he said in January: "I can't speak for Australia and the way it runs its diplomatic relationships, but clearly if they were to follow us and show respect, I guess a little more diplomacy from time to time and be cautious with wording, then they too could hopefully be in a similar situation." 

O'Connor admitted to host Ryan Bridge he "could have kept my comments to myself". 

"It was a bit of probably 'West Coast diplomacy'. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have said it... From time to time, you make mistakes." 

He said the diplomatic snafu hadn't affected trade with the authoritarian regime, our 13-year trade agreement being upgraded just days beforehand. 

"I'll let Australia deal with their relationship with China, and I'll deal with our one," O'Connor said.

"I don't need to provide advice to them probably - I'll just stick to my challenges, which is enhancing the opportunities for New Zealand exporters into China and other markets around the world."

Asked if 60 Minutes was right to say New Zealand had "ditched" Australia, O'Connor said "absolutely not".

"Every time there's a trans-Tasman encounter, it seems there's a bit of banter. It seems as though this is another one of those occasions," he said, smiling. 

Earlier this month Parliament passed a motion expressing concern at China's treatment of its Uighur minority. Three parties wanted to call it a genocide, but couldn't get that word past Labour, who hold an outright majority. 

Asked if he pushed back against calling it a genocide, mindful of the potential trade impacts, O'Connor said it was a question for the Foreign Minister or Prime Minister. He said the Government takes its guidance on such declarations from the UN.

"If you make accusations that can't be supported by the UN when it comes to use of 'genocide', then that does leave you exposed."

Watch Newshub Nation 9:30am Saturday/10am Sunday on TV3, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Newshub Nation is supported by NZ On Air.