New Zealand's universities have a responsibility to provide an environment where free speech is encouraged, not suppressed, says Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

This comes after a planned event at a university in Auckland was shut down following criticism from Chinese officials.

Act Leader David Seymour is fired up over the issue and has called for Foreign Minister Winston Peters to seek an explanation from the Chinese Consul General over the saga.

This morning, Newsroom reported that the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) had cancelled a Tiananmen Square anniversary event after Chinese Government officials asked the university not to go ahead with the event.


However, AUT said the event was cancelled due to booking issues. This is despite emails, released under the Official Information Act, showed Chinese officials raising concerns over the event.

Last year, three planned screenings of the documentary In the Name of Confucius at Auckland University were canned after issues of "reputational damage" were raised.

Hipkins was not briefed about the issue by officials – a spokesman said he wouldn't have expected to have been, given New Zealand Universities are institutionally independent.

But speaking to media this afternoon, he said there seems to be some dispute as to why the event was cancelled.

"But from what I have seen, the university has made it very clear to the Chinese government that as a university they uphold the principles of free speech and protest and debate around contentious issues."

He said New Zealand's relationship with China and the Chinese government was very important to the Government.

He added that this relationship was very important to a number of New Zealand's tertiary education institutions as well.

"But that always has to be on the basis of mutual respect, and mutual respect for the values of the other country."


Seymour said it was completely unacceptable that Chinese officials continue to intervene in New Zealand universities to prevent views unfavourable to their government being aired.

"It is not the place of foreign governments to do so, and it shows a lack of respect for fundamental New Zealand values, including freedom of speech.

He said if New Zealand is to retain a free and open society, it must push back against the "slow erosion of our fundamental values".

"That must begin with Winston Peters telling the Chinese Consul General she should respect freedom of speech and academic freedom in New Zealand universities."