SYDNEY - New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Saturday she had expressed concerns over the South China Sea and tensions in the Taiwan Strait during talks with her Chinese counterpart at the end of a visit to Beijing.
Mahuta also said in a statement she "noted New Zealand’s deep concerns regarding the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong", during her meeting with Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Qin Gang.
"Nanaia Mahuta expressed concerns over developments in the South China Sea and increasing tensions in the Taiwan Strait," the foreign minister's statement said.
Mahuta said she reiterated New Zealand’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China is a key ally of Russia and both have criticised the U.S. and NATO for undermining global stability.
Mahuta arrived in China on Wednesday for the four-day trip, the first by a New Zealand minister since 2019, and also met China's top diplomat Wang Yi as well as business and women leaders.
Wang told Mahuta that China and New Zealand had always respected and trusted each other, according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.
New Zealand has long been seen as the moderate voice on China in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance also involving the United States, Australia, Britain, and Canada. But New Zealand's tone on security and China's growing presence in the South Pacific toughened in the past year after China and the Solomon Islands struck a security pact.
New Zealand has consistently expressed concerns about the potential militarisation of the Pacific, amid China's military buildup in the South China Sea.
China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the option of using force to take the island under its control, and claims a large part of the South China Sea.
Mahuta said the countries looked forward to resuming in-person dialogue on a range of issues following a gap of several years in face-to-face contacts.
She invited Qin to visit New Zealand, and also flagged a potential visit by New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to China, perhaps this year. Hipkins became prime minister in January after Jacinda Ardern resigned.
(Reporting by Sam McKeith; Editing by Stephen Coates)