China's ambassador to New Zealand, Madam Wu Xi, said New Zealand and China needed to build a more resilient relationship and handle differences properly to avoid "the rocks."

And she said the two countries needed to foster new areas of co-operation.

She made the comments at a reception hosted by the NZ – China Council at Te Papa and she alluded to the headlines which have dominated the news about strained relations, without reference to the cause.

"Many of our New Zealand friends shared both their concerns and constructive suggestions about this relationship," she said.

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"When sailing through unchartered waters, it is vitally important to firmly hold the rudder , carefully steering through the rocks.

"As two countries different in history, culture and social system, it is only natural for us to have differences. We need to properly handle these differences and build a more resilient bilateral relationship. "

She said the development of China would provide more opportunities for New Zealand "and create broader space for our bilateral co-operation."

"We need to foster new prospects for our shared interests and work for substantive progress in our co-operation."

The comments are the first Madam Wu has made about the strained relationship. She made them tonight, shortly after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the issue in her cabinet press conference at the Beehive.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved to stem more talk about a deterioration in New Zealand's relationship with China during her post cabinet press conference.

The relationship dominated the political headlines last week after China cancelled a gala opening in Wellington of the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asserted the importance of China to New Zealand at her post cabinet press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asserted the importance of China to New Zealand at her post cabinet press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Later in the week, some companies suggested they were facing delays at the border for exports.

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China openly criticised a strategic defence paper in July which adopted more critical language over the risks China posed to security, Ardern's visit to China has been subject to "scheduling issues" and recent articles in state-run propaganda suggest that Chinese travellers were wary of travelling to New Zealand.

Neither the ambassador nor Ardern raised the issues that has strained relations most, a preliminary decision in late November by New Zealand's foreign intelligence agency the GCSB to ban Huawei from Spark's 5G plans.

Ardern did not express a view on reports from Britain that the GCSB equivalent had decided it concerns about Huawei could be mitigated in its 5G plans.

Ardern said there had been no unusual delays at China's border.

The rate of consignments stopped at the Chinese border for the whole of 2018 was 0.26 per cent; in January this year, it was 0.29 per cent, a change of only 0.03 points.

She referred to Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, on Friday dismissing suggestions that the Global Times story about Chinese travellers rethinking New Zealand meant that the Chinese Government was warning travellers off New Zealand.

She said arrivals were up 7.3 per cent in 2018, holiday-makers were up 8.8 per cent.

"To recap, we do place a very high priority on our relationship with China," she said.

"It is a significant and complex relationship but one that brings benefit to both parties."