Nanaia Mahuta meeting with Australian counterpart was delayed ahead of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' trip to China

The Prime Minister has touched down in China ahead of his face-to-face with China's President Xi Jinping.

But already there are tensions behind the scenes with a report appearing on the weekend saying our Foreign Affairs Minister was harangued for an hour by her Chinese counterpart during a meeting earlier this year.

There was a red carpet rolled out in the land of the red dragon on Monday morning for Chris Hipkins' arrival. 

It was touchdown after a marathon 21-hour mission across the world in three long flights. 

It was a long trip with a backup plane in tow in case the good old 757 couldn't make it. 

The backup followed as far as Manila and will wait back in Darwin just in case the old girl breaks down.

"That's not done in every instance," Hipkins said. "In this particular instance that was a decision taken by the Air Force to have some contingency built into the planning around the trip."

National leader Christopher Luxon called it "inappropriate".

"Sending two aircraft because one might break down and embarrass New Zealand, as we have seen before, and equally the climate change impacts on that I don't think are very good either."

Embarrassment was avoided and the 757 did make it.

First stop was a warm welcome at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing.

Hipkins will be hoping he'll receive a similar reception with the Chinese leadership later this week.

Asked if he thought it would be friendly, Hipkins said:  "I am sure it will be diplomatic."

He might be cagey because his Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta got an absolute earful when she visited in March.

"We have a relationship that is strong enough that where we do disagree we can share that openly," Hipkins said. 

A leak to The Australian newspaper claimed Mahuta received a 'wolf warrior attack' from her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang.

A source familiar with the incident told the newspaper Mahuta was "harangued for a whole hour".

Asked if he was expecting a similar dressing down from Chinese leadership, Hipkins said: "I'm expecting a meeting where we can talk about areas where we have got common interests and where we agree and where we can make progress moving forward together. 

"Of course, I'm expecting there will be areas that we will have conversations about where there won't be agreement."

Mahuta's office told Newshub in a statement: "We would characterise the meeting in Beijing as a robust conversation on both sides."

But it refused to go into more detail about the meeting, saying New Zealand's relationship with China is one of our most important and is complex and wide-ranging.

"Her description of it to me was that it was a constructive meeting. Constructive meetings don't always involve unanimous agreement," Hipkins said. 

He's sticking strictly to script ahead of the all-powerful handshake with Xi.

Jenna Lynch analysis

Prime Minister Hipkins has managed to do what the US Secretary of State couldn't by locking in the Xi meeting before he actually made it over to China.

That speaks to the strength of the relationship with China but these reports of how Mahuta was "harangued" do not bode well.

They speak to the tensions behind closed doors as New Zealand attempts to navigate the increasingly wobbly tightrope between the United States and China.

Newshub has learnt of a meeting that Mahuta has delayed. She was due to visit Australia this week along with Defence Minister Andrew Little.

They were going over to meet their Australian counterparts. The official line is that it had to be delayed because Little picked up another portfolio during the Michael Wood resignation fallout.

But obviously, had that meeting taken place, the AUKUS nuclear deal would have come up. It is something China has condemned. The Government won't want that dropping in the midst of a Xi meeting.

One of the things we do know will come up during Hipkins' meeting is the war in Ukraine 

China is in a unique position to influence Russia and on Monday we've heard from the Prime Minister for the first time following the Wagner uprising.

He said if this is a catalyst for deescalation, then that is something New Zealand would welcome.

So add that to the laundry list of tense topics to be traversed with China, a country we depend on but one the Prime Minister wasn’t prepared to call friendly.