Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not denied claims by National that five of her ministers are currently waiting for permission from China for a visit there – which would be a further sign of strained relations with the superpower.
Instead she accused National leader Simon Bridges in the first question time of the year of acting against New Zealand's national interest through what she called "the politicisation" of the New Zealand-China relationship.
Ardern listed the six visits that ministers undertook to China last year: Foreign Minister Winston Peters in May, Climate Change Minister James Shaw in July, Education Minister Chris Hipkins in July, Forestry Minister Shane Jones in September, Science Minister Megan Woods in September, and Trade Minister David Parker in November.
She said five ministers might well be intending to visit in the future, given six had visited last year, then she was prompted by Foreign Minister Winston Peters to elaborate on what he called "New Zealand's hitherto foreign policy consensus."
She accused Bridges of "playing politics" over the relationship with China.
Ardern said it was important to have an independent foreign policy line that was in the interests of New Zealand economically, and in terms of economic security and its values.
"It is disappointing that in recent times, we have seen the politicisation of our relationship, which sits directly in contradiction to our economic interests and our national security interests."
Strains emerged last year when China objected to how it was described in a Defence strategic paper which Peters fronted when Ardern was on maternity leave.
Strains intensified when New Zealand Government spy agency the GCSB declined the involvement of Huawei in Spark's 5G network. If its objections are not resolved, the Government will have to make the decision.
Ardern has failed to get a date to visit China owing "scheduling issues" and similar scheduling issues led to China cancelling a gala opening next week to mark the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism.
Bridges has accused Ardern and Peters of mishandling the relationship, exacerbated by a Peters speech in Washington talking up the importance of the United States countering China in the Pacific.
Peters and Bridges in questions to Ardern raised controversial comments made by the other, Bridges in a secretly taped conversation with ex-colleague Jami-Lee Ross, and Peters during the 2014 election campaign.
Peters: "Is it true that the Government's position is to treat every nation and every people fairly, politely, equally, and respectfully, and would never say, for example…'two Chinese are better than two Indians?'"
Bridges: "Does she agree with her Foreign Minister's form comments that 'two Wongs don't make a white?'"
Speaker Trevor Mallard admonished them both.