John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Envoys soothe Chinese over trip to Taiwan

By JOHN ARMSTRONG political editor

New Zealand has quietly reassured China that this month's visit to Taiwan by a delegation of MPs did not carry official Government status.

The soothing noises were made at a meeting this week between Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and a senior Chinese Embassy diplomat, after China expressed concern that the MPs were representing the Government.

The delegation was led by United Future leader Peter Dunne and included National's Arthur Anae, Simon Power and Richard Worth, and Act's Stephen Franks. Taiwan paid for the trip.

After they returned home, some MPs received a letter from the Chinese Embassy saying the visit sent the "wrong signals" to Taiwanese authorities and encouraged separatists in their bid for Taiwan's independence.

"Paying a visit to Taiwan in the capacity of a member of Parliament and having meetings with leaders of the Taiwan authorities can by no means be described as something non-official," the letter said.

"Such visits will certainly not help the development of our bilateral relations."

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Phil Goff said the ministry had "clarified" things, telling China that the delegation was not making an official Government visit and that the MPs were there as individuals.

But it was also reiterated to the Chinese official that individual MPs had the right to travel to Taiwan and that did not compromise New Zealand's One-China policy.

That policy acknowledges that Taiwan is part of China. The policy prevents official dealings with authorities in Taipei, but allows cultural and economic links.

Mr Dunne said the embassy's reaction was "utterly intolerable" for a democratic and open society such as New Zealand, "although I appreciate that the notion of people having rights in a free and open society will be quite alien to the Chinese."

He called on Mr Goff to lodge a formal protest with the Chinese. But Mr Goff's spokesman said the matter had been dealt with.

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