Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved to shore up the country's position on China this week.
Speaking at the China Business Summit in Auckland, she said there were matters where China and New Zealand "do not, cannot, and will not agree", but these differences need not define the relationship.
"It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China's role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – are becoming harder to reconcile," Ardern said.
Her words followed Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta last month saying she was uncomfortable expanding the role of Five Eyes, which includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.
Reuters quoted Geoffrey Miller, an international analyst at the political website Democracy Project, as saying Ardern's comments appeared "to be crafted to deflect surprisingly sharp and severe criticism from commentators after Mahuta's remarks last month".
The UK Telegraph has pointed out New Zealand's invidious position within the Five Eyes intelligence collaboration, saying "Australia and Canada's relations with Beijing have plummeted in recent years, and so far there appears to be little prospect of any significant improvement in US-China relations under President Biden".
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China was acting "more aggressively abroad" and behaving "increasingly in adversarial ways".
Among some of the sillier comments, Sky News Australia host Rowan Dean claimed Ardern was "cosying" up to China while co-host Rita Panahi said the New Zealand approach involved "bending a knee to Chinese tyranny".
At the same Auckland conference, however, former Labour New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said she was "staggered" by any suggestion Wellington was deserting traditional partners to develop relations with China.
Former National Party prime minister John Key - also speaking at the China Business Summit - similarly backed Ardern, saying the New Zealand Government should not blindly follow the global rhetoric on China, which has "hardened, deteriorated and worsened" in the past few years.
He said issues around China and its territories had been around during his tenure and this did not mean New Zealand shouldn't discuss the issues as it sees them.
"We are much more likely to be successful if we have a constructive relationship as friends," he said.
No one is under any illusions about what is at stake. Australia angered Beijing by calling for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 and has since been on the receiving end of Chinese trade restrictions, affecting billions of dollars' worth of its exports.
China's Ambassador to New Zealand, Wu Xi, who also spoke at the event, warned against interfering in China's internal affairs "so as to maintain the sound development of our bilateral relations".
Clearly, this is not the be-all and end-all. Those more strident critics should remember Ardern defended Australia when the rhetoric was at its most heated with China in December last year.
As Key and Clark intimated in their comments, New Zealand has not shifted on its stance with China, nor with its standing with Five Eyes.