New Zealand PM Ardern says to discuss Huawei decision in China visit

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a news conference in Christchurch, New Zealand March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

BEIJING/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she hoped to have a dialogue with Beijing about New Zealand’s intelligence agency’s decision to reject a bid by Chinese telecom giant Huawei to build a 5G mobile network.

Ardern is on a one-day visit to China and is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Premier Li Keqiang later on Monday.

Talking to reporters before the meetings, Ardern said she would set out the process New Zealand followed in the Huawei decision, and point out that there has been no political or diplomatic influence in the matter.

“This is an opportunity to have a dialogue to talk about the way the process has been undertaken to date and where it currently stands,” she said, adding that some media reports that suggest Huawei is banned in New Zealand are not true.

The interview with reporters was streamed on New Zealand’s 1NEWS.

Ties with China have been tense under Ardern’s government which has openly raised concerns about Beijing’s growing influence in the South Pacific and rejected Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s first local bid to build a 5G mobile network.

Last month, China postponed a major tourism campaign in New Zealand days before its launch raising concerns of strained ties over China’s growing influence in the Pacific.

Ardern has acknowledged there were complexities in the relationship with China but has dismissed concerns of a rift with New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

The trip has been trimmed down to a one-day visit in the wake of an attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 that killed 50 people.

Ardern said she also anticipated talks around an upgrade to the free trade agreement.

China entered into a free trade agreement with New Zealand, the first Western country to do so, in 2008, which has helped the Asian giant grow to become New Zealand’s largest goods export partner.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called in a letter to Arden last week for her to publicly express concern about the situation in China’s far Western region of Xinjiang when she meets Chinese leaders.

China has faced growing international opprobrium over a controversial de-radicalization programme in the heavily Muslim populated Xinjiang, where critics say China is running internment camps.

China strongly denies this and calls them vocational training centers, defending its need to de-radicalize a part of the country where the government has blamed Islamist extremists and separatists for multiple attacks in which hundreds have died in recent years.

Ardern said New Zealand has raised the issue of Uighur Muslims in the past but did not specify if it would be discussed in the meetings on Monday.

“Human rights issues are things that New Zealand routinely raises in our bilaterals with China,” she said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry)

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