New Zealand has been left red-faced after China failed to take part in the country’s much touted tourism partnership between the two nations.
China has refused to provide a government minister to attend the New Zealand-based launch of the Year of Chinese Tourism campaign.
The year-long campaign, announced last year, had plenty of buzz growing around and aims to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.
It also hopes to double the amount of Chinese tourists going to New Zealand by 2024.
In October last year a much-hyped launch for the campaign was announced by NZ’s Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis for January 20.
At the time he revealed it would be held at New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa, alongside the famed Chinese Terracotta Warriors exhibition.
But recently, Beijing decided to abruptly cancel plans and send someone to attend the launch, leaving NZ officials scrambling to organise a new date to launch it.
Mr Davis’ office confirmed they were working with the Chinese Embassy to make this happen — but a new date hasn’t surfaced yet.
New Zealand has said China is one of their biggest markets, second to Australia, and estimate by 2024 more than 800,000 people from China are expected to visit it — almost double the 450,000 who visited last year.
With the campaign’s failure to launch, New Zealand has been forced to downplay talks of a rift.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly said the issue is “scheduling”.
But she’s also raised eyebrows for failing to pin-down a diplomatic visit to China.
According to the NZ Herald, Ms Ardern has been unsuccessful in her attempts to lock in a meeting.
But Ms Ardern maintains the only thing keeping her from China is again, “scheduling.”
The apparent dual snubs come at a time where New Zealand is trying to show its neutrality during the ongoing trade war and other tensions between the US and China.
However an editorial in the NZ Herald this week stated that it appeared Beijing was of the view that New Zealand was siding with the US.
Multiple analysts have also claimed last week that China’s failure to attend the tourism launch was a jab to signal the nation is not pleased with New Zealand’s recent decisions.
AIR OF TENSION
China’s snub could be seen as retaliation for the weekend’s upset, after an Air New Zealand plane travelling from Auckland to Shanghai was turned around mid-flight.
NZ authorities said it was because the aircraft was not certified to enter China, however sources told local reporters it was because Air New Zealand forgot to remove reference to Taiwan as an independent country.
Beijing is of the firm belief that Taiwan is part of China.
While Taiwan is self-governed, it never formally declared its independence from the mainland and China’s President Xi Jinping is determined to reunite the two.
In a recent speech he declared Taiwanese people “must understand that independence will only bring hardship.”
HUAWEI HITS BACK
Another reason the rift could exist is due to New Zealand’s choice to ban Chinese telecom Huawei from being part of its 5G infrastructure rollout.
It’s a similar move New Zealand’s “five eyes” intelligence partners — Australia, US, Canada and UK — have done.
They’ve all expressed concerns about espionage risks with Huawei.
NZ intelligence services cited “significant national security risks,” for their reason for rejecting the telco.
Today, Huawei took a clear stab at New Zealand over the knock-back, taking out full page newspaper advertisements with the cheeky declaration: “5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand.”
This week the US also amplified their anti-Huawei speak, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioning allies against using their technologies.
He said it would make it more difficult for Washington to “partner alongside them.”
The US said the company’s equipment could be used for spying.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying hit back at Mr Pompeo’s remarks, saying the US was using its state power to suppress Chinese companies’ legitimate development rights and interests, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Huawei New Zealand said there was no evidence the company had done anything wrong and the country’s ban may prevent Kiwis using the best possible network.
“We see this as a quirky way of getting that message across,” it told Radio New Zealand.
“New Zealanders wouldn’t accept second or third best on the rugby field, and they shouldn’t have to put up with it when it comes to 5G.”
Further to this, the New Zealand government has been trying to downplay the ban in a bid to avoid offending its largest trading partner.
NZ Government minister Andrew Little, who oversees intelligence services, said Huawei’s ad was “not helping”.
“They can bark as long as they like, but we have decisions to make about New Zealand’s national security interests,” he said.
That’s the only thing upon which we will make a decision.”
The government has previously denied it acted because Huawei was Chinese and said there had not been any pressure to blacklist the company from allied countries, despite the harsh word of warning coming from the US.
By Natasha Christian