Air NZ Flight to Shanghai Turned Away on Taiwan Reference

The flight was not allowed to land at Shanghai airport

The flight was not allowed to land at Shanghai airport Credit Reuters

Full disclosure: I was asking questions of Air NZ on Sunday afternoon, suspecting it may be the start of a diplomatic incident.

Ardern on Tuesday acknowledged there were "complexities" in the relationship with China, but dismissed concerns of a rift with New Zealand's largest trading partner.

But while former Prime Minister John Key made it virtually a policy to visit China annually, with ministerial visits averaging close to one a month, face to face contact with the current Government has become nearly rare.

The Air NZ Flight 289 from Auckland to Shanghai, with 270 passengers aboard, turned around about five hours into the journey on Sunday after the airline discovered a "technicality", meaning the particular aircraft in operation, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, did not have regulatory authority to land in China. It turned around several hours into the flight.

When asked to comment on the issue by the news agency, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denied that it was an indication of strained relations between China and her country, and was instead due to administrative issues. New Zealand news website Stuff claimed to have spoken to multiple sources saying the turnback was down to a "reference to Taiwan which China took to be an acknowledgement that the island was independent".

But on Tuesday it was reported that China was angry about a reference to Taiwan in some paperwork.

"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."
The airline said that all passengers have since been able to arrive in Shanghai via other flights.

But even if the Air NZ flight is forgotten, the episode will be repeated.

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There appears little prospect of an imminent breakthrough with Brussels, and Mrs May might not bring her deal back for a decisive vote this month.


MBIE officials are working with China to try to reschedule the official opening.

However a fortnight ago, the Chinese (who were the hosts of the event) unexpectedly cancelled. "Them [the opposition National party] spreading misinformation around this flight I see as irresponsible and a real departure on what we've experienced on foreign policy before", Ardern told TVNZ.

"We need to know what has happened here". The problem for the Ardern Government is that the language is nearly identical to a key question which she can not answer: when are you going to China?

The National Party says it looks like New Zealand's relationship with China is deteriorating and the government needs to get its act together quickly to sort it out.

Ardern's plans to visit Beijing a year ago were also put on hold due to scheduling problems, with her office saying in late November it was "difficult to find a time that suits everyone".

But the relationship with China and many of our close allies is also changing.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern smiles as she attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2019.

On the one hand, China faces bigger problems, in its ongoing trade war with the United States, meaning it can not afford to get into unnecessary fights elsewhere.

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