The Government would expect to be alerted to legitimate concerns about Chinese students coming to New Zealand to work on research that may have sensitive military applications, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says.

Peters has responded to reports from media outlet Newsroom that the Security Intelligence Service had investigated a Chinese national due to fears the PhD research he is carrying out could jeopardise military technologies.

"If there was legitimate concern I would expect to be alerted about it, probably by the GCSB or the SIS," he told reporters this afternoon.

The student, who is studying at the university's electrical and electronic engineering department, is working to improve the efficiency of mobiles on the 5G network which from a consumer point of view would retain battery power, Newsroom reported.

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Peters said he needed proof before he commented on any particular case and said he had not been briefed on the case of an AUT Chinese student reportedly spied on by the SIS.

"I want proof and evidence before I start answering these questions."

Asked if he was aware of any work being carried out by the security agencies in this area, he said: "I am aware of the work that the intelligence agencies do, yes, but I don't talk about it because it won't be effective in the safety and security of New Zealanders."

Peters declined to comment on whether it would be disappointing if a student visa was granted before national security checks were done.

"Those things are meant to be done but it's quite possible with a young person you don't quite know what you're dealing with, or when they go from being a genuine student to something else."

Minister responsible for the GCSB and SIS Andrew Little was asked whether he had received any reports from those agencies about a Chinese national studying cellphone technology at AUT.

"I don't talk about reports that I receive from the intelligence agencies about intelligence they may or may not be engaged in."

Little said security checks were a matter for Immigration New Zealand.

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