22 Jun 2010

Apology to China not about trade, says PM

8:30 am on 22 June 2010

Prime Minister John Key says his apology to a visiting Chinese delegation over a scuffle at Parliament was not about trade, but about making sure visitors to New Zealand are treated with dignity.

Mr Key has apologised for failing to provide proper security after an altercation last week between Green Party co-leader Russel Norman and Chinese security guarding Vice President Xi Jinping on Parliament's forecourt.

Dr Norman says Mr Key has sent the wrong message by apologising to a country with little tolerance for free speech.

Mr Key says any MP is free to protest, but senior visitors should be able to enter Parliament without risk.

"We had never anticipated that a New Zealand Member of Parliament would use his or her position to charge at the Vice President."

Mr Key says the Chinese security staff would not have known that Dr Norman was an MP and would have simply seen someone charging at the Vice President.

He says his apology had nothing to do with trade or the wider relationship with China, but rather to make sure visiting foreign leaders can maintain their dignity at Parliament.


Dr Norman was protesting with a Tibetan flag at Parliament on Friday when he alleges he was assaulted by security guards protecting Mr Xi.

He has written to Parliament's Speaker, Lockwood Smith, seeking an assurance that New Zealand security services would be in control during future visits of foreign dignitaries.

He has told Dr Smith he is concerned security staff were overwhelmed by what he describes as the aggressive approach taken by some members of the Chinese delegation.

Police say they can't find enough evidence to charge anyone, partly because the Chinese delegation would not be interviewed about the matter.

Dr Norman also wants an explanation from Mr Key about why New Zealand security services were not in charge of the situation.

'Unlikely to damage ties'

A Chinese community leader and a former diplomat doubt the extensive economic ties with China have been jeopardised by the incident.

Since a free-trade agreement was signed in 2008, China has gone from being New Zealand's fourth-biggest trading partner to the second-biggest, and exports to China climbed by about $860 million in the year to April. Talks on the latest visit were aimed at further developing trade opportunities.

Chinese Association president Steven Young says the confrontation may have soured the end of the trip, but is unlikely to do any long-term damage.

A former New Zealand ambassador to the United Nations, Terence O'Brien, agrees and describes the confrontation as an overnight wonder that will disappear in peoples' memories.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says he raised the incident with the Chinese leader when he met him later in the day and made it very clear that peaceful protest is part of the New Zealand culture.

He says Mr Xi told him he had come to New Zealand expecting peaceful protest.

Australia trade visit

Mr Xi has now arrived in Australia at the head of a large business delegation, for a visit that will focus on trade and economic issues.

The ABC reports he is expected to seek a briefing from Australian leaders on the government's plan to introduce a super-tax on mining companies.

China is one of the largest buyers of Australian mineral and energy resources and there are concerns that the new tax may affect its supply of raw materials and investment in Australian mining companies.