New Zealand media needs to be more careful with questions it asks politicians about sensitive issues like China, expert says

A Chinese political expert is calling on New Zealand's media to not put our politicians in awkward situations where they could damage our international reputation. 

It comes after Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was asked last week if he thought Chinese President Xi Jinping was a "dictator" like US President Joe Biden had labelled him. 

"No, and the form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people," Hipkins told reporters.

University of Canterbury Chinese politics specialist Anne-Marie Brady appeared on AM on Wednesday after the Prime Minister's meeting with Xi overnight.

She said the meeting was "pretty standard" and there was nothing very surprising in it while Hipkins said it was a "warm and constructive" and described New Zealand's relationship with China as a "friendship".

Meanwhile, Xi told reporters the relationship between the two countries remained "strong and robust", despite a changing international landscape. 

New Zealand media needs to be more careful with questions it asks politicians about sensitive issues like China, expert says
Photo credit: Pool/File

It comes as New Zealand's leaders have been forced to walk a bit of a political tightrope recently, with China's stance on individual human rights and foreign policy issues. 

New Zealand's relationship with China is incredibly important as they're our largest export market. 

Brady told AM co-host Ryan Bridge some of our political leaders have been "freezing" recently when asked about foreign policy issues but acknowledged it can be tough to properly express their position in the right words. 

"It's not about self-censoring, it's about finding the right words that properly express our position and that is always challenging and I've heard our ministers speaking off the cuff very fluently about China or the United States or Five Eyes and I think they've been freezing recently," she said. 

"Famously, both Damien O'Connor and Nanaia Mahuta and Chris Hipkins had said things that they perhaps may not have wished to have had gone public or didn't put things the way they wanted." 

But she believes New Zealand's media need to look at themselves and the questions they're asking and if they're ethical. 

"I think the media needs to think about the questions they're asking, is it ethical to continually push our government into saying things that would be harmful for their international reputation? 

"The media role is the fourth estate. Your job is to hold power to account. Do you have ethical responsibilities as well, especially in such a dire international environment where we've got a hot war going on in Europe and a very serious security environment in the Pacific as well?" 

National Party leader Christopher Luxon was asked on AM following Brady's interview about her comments on New Zealand's media and he said he disagreed with her. 

"I just caught the back end of your interview with her. I was a bit confused by those remarks if I was honest," Luxon told AM.   

Luxon said he concurred with Hipkins' stance to not label Chinese President Xi a "dictator". 

Brady believes the reason New Zealand's leaders have been more cautious in criticism of China than its Western allies is because we can't defend ourselves militarily.

"I think Xi Jinping, Nanaia Mahuta, Damien O'Connor, who have to speak up on foreign policy issues and especially in the last couple of years have had another number of banana skins thrown their way by our New Zealand journalists to try and get them to say controversial things on China or the United States or Five Eyes need better media training," she said. 

"As a small state, we have to be very careful in our foreign policy, that's just the nature of being a small state we can't defend ourselves militarily." 

She told AM New Zealand has to develop close relations with other countries to support our economy. 

"We're always going to be much more cautious in what we say than a great power or even in a medium power like Australia," she said. 

"So it's just challenging for our politicians who need to find a way that doesn't look embarrassing for New Zealand to talk about our most important relationship."

Watch full interview with Anne-Marie Brady in the video above.