Advocacy group says Chris Hipkins should've been tougher with Xi Jinping over China's treatment of Uighurs

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has taken his diplomatic training wheels off, emerging from a 40-minute sit down with the Chinese President all smiles.

Xi Jinping praised New Zealand as a friend and partner and while Hipkins didn't go quite that far, he said the meeting was warm.

But it was too warm for one human rights advocate, who says Hipkins should've been tougher on China for their treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Hipkins was showered in compliments by his Chinese counterpart Premier Li Qiang, who called him a "young and capable statesman". 

Their meeting was the final in a trilogy of the top of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hipkins is quite getting used to the place, telling Newshub he felt comfortable in the Great Hall of the People.

"Well it's certainly a formidable building, but I certainly didn't feel the conversation was uncomfortable in any way," said Hipkins. 

President Xi Jinping was visibly pleased to have Hipkins here, trumpeting the strength of the relationship.

"Our relationship has remained robust and strong," Xi said. 

He dubbed us pals and partners. 

"China always views New Zealand as a friend and a partner."

But Hipkins was hesitant to herald the Chinese as "friends".

"It's an international partnership," he said.

Asked if he would call China a friend and a partner, Hipkins said: "Well it depends on the context, but yes by and large."

He was coy on whether the Biden comment about Xi being a dictator came up.

"I did not raise it," he said.

Hipkins seemed to get on rather well with Xi though, despite worries he might get a dressing down.

"It was a warm and constructive meeting," Hipkins said. 

And was there any robust discussion? 

"We canvassed all of the issues that a New Zealand Prime Minister visiting Beijing would canvas. The meeting was at no point adversarial."

A relief given the topics on the table.

"The relationship between China and the US was discussed, the situation in Ukraine was discussed, the Pacific was discussed, human rights were discussed."

Though Hipkins admitted he didn't push that hard on human rights abuses against the Uighur population in Xinjiang.

"It wasn't discussed in great depth. I referenced New Zealand's position." 

That's upset the Uighur Solidarity Aotearoa, which says that shows Hipkins has a total lack of moral compass. 

"To hear and see Chris Hipkins say nothing about it when he's there in China, that’s disturbing," said spokesperson Sam Vincent. 

The Prime Minister's argument for broad brush is that the great depth comes in his longer meeting with his counterpart in the Chinese system Premier Li.

"He should have relayed New Zealand's profound concerns... and he should have asked for Xi Jinping's response," said Vincent.

But Hipkins said in a 40-minute meeting there is "a limit to the amount of progress you can make".

Hipkins said he did go into more detail about Xinjiang and Hong Kong in his meeting with Li.