Published: Tue, February 12, 2019
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Long-haul NZ-China flight forced back mid-flight

Long-haul NZ-China flight forced back mid-flight

"Tourism is very important to New Zealand, but so is trade and our global relationship - I think that it's very concerning that Jacinda Ardern is the first elected Prime Minister not to visit China within the first year in office since before Robert Muldoon, that in itself speaks volumes".

"There are challenges there.our job is to make sure that we always in all our relationships represent New Zealand's best interests and we do that."

An Air New Zealand plane forced to turn around en route to Shanghai did so for diplomatic reasons, but not because of recent unease with New Zealand's relationship with China.

The incident has created a potential headache for New Zealand's government, which has recently suffered frosty relations with Beijing.

China has a history of demanding global airlines not refer to Taiwan's independence or nationhood on its websites or promotional material, and in the past has urged Qantas, Air Canada and others to change how it refers to the island.

However, Stuff reported that officials in Beijing had warned the airline in 2018 to remove any references in its paperwork that suggested Taiwan was a state, but that the issue was not resolved.

"We've got a situation right now where the Prime Minister is seeking meetings in China and she can't get them and there is a relationship problem here, " he continued.

Air New Zealand has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism was meant to be launched with great fanfare at Wellington's Te Papa museum next week, but that has been postponed by China.

Ardern was scheduled to visit China early this year but the invitation has been put on hold.

"This issue relates to a particular aircraft which is not yet certified to operate to China but was unfortunately assigned to operate our Shanghai flight on Saturday night", the spokesperson said. "Is it part of the ongoing deterioration in relations between this NZ Govt & China?"

"It has always been a complex relationship, one that is particularly strong economically, our people-to-people exchanges increasing, particularly through tourism".

Ardern said she would not characterise the relationship as having deteriorated, arguing the Government had been "incredibly consistent" in how it approached diplomacy with China and other countries.

"We've not received any communication of this nature", an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said at the time.

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