China urged me not to meet HK advocates - Shearer

Labour MP David Shearer says the Government should have met with democracy campaigners from Hong Kong. Picture: Greg Bowker
Labour MP David Shearer says the Government should have met with democracy campaigners from Hong Kong. Picture: Greg Bowker

Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer says he was put under pressure by Chinese officials not to meet with democracy campaigners from Hong Kong.

Shearer said a political adviser from the Chinese Embassy contacted him on Tuesday and "voiced concerns" about his plans to meet campaigners Martin Lee and Anson Chan.

He told the embassy the meeting would go ahead, and he also planned to meet Lee again next week.

It was revealed yesterday that Deputy Prime Minister Bill English cancelled a scheduled meeting with the two advocates following advice from foreign affairs officials.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was in Beijing for bilateral talks on Tuesday, and English was told that a meeting with Lee and Chan could be a distraction from McCully's talks.

Shearer said the Government cancelling a scheduled meeting was a bad look.

"I think it is unprecedented that we got told by another country not to meet people who are visiting, particularly when the meeting's already been arranged.

"For New Zealand, we should always meet with whoever we want to and we shouldn't be put off by the agendas of other countries."

Shearer said New Zealand's relationship with China was "robust".

Despite sensitivities around some issues, China respected New Zealand's "forthrightness" and independence, he said.

English issued a statement today saying: "I can confirm there was a meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning with two Hong Kong nationals at the request of a financial markets contact of mine.

"My office was contacted by the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs expressing concern the meeting could be diplomatically sensitive.

"It is not uncommon for the Minister of Foreign Affairs' office to provide advice on meetings with foreign visitors.

"My office advised me to cancel the meeting, and I made the decision to do so."

Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee, on behalf of English in Parliament yesterday, said no Chinese official spoke to anyone from English's office before the meeting was cancelled.

Brownlee would not say why a meeting with Lee and Chan would be a distraction from bilateral talks.

"I'm not going to go into that," he told RNZ.

"It's one of those things. We don't interfere in the politics of other countries."

The issue was raised in Parliament yesterday by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters
who accused New Zealand of kow-towing to Beijing.

Peters suggested that the meeting had been cancelled "because wealthy Chinese business interests are lining the National Party coffers."

Speaking on behalf of English, Gerry Brownlee said "New Zealand does not kow-tow to any other country at all."

Today Peters said the explanation sounded "shady" and the public had a right to know if a foreign power had been leaning on the Government.

During a recent trip to Australia, Lee and Chan met Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, and in the United States they met Vice President Joe Biden.

- NZ Herald

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