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Govt denies `bowing down to Beijing'

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 20/10/2016

Chinese government pressure wasn't behind the cancellation of a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and two Hong Kong independence activists, parliament has been told.

But despite persistent questions from NZ First leader Winston Peters, no explanation was given to parliament for the cancellation.

However, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee later indicated to reporters the meeting was a diplomatically sensitive issue because Foreign Minister Murray McCully was visiting Beijing at the time.

"He wouldn't have wanted distractions to his meetings," Mr Brownlee said.

Anson Chan and Martin Lee arrived in New Zealand this week after visiting the United States and Australia.

In the US they met Vice-President Joe Biden, and in Australia they met Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

But Mr English cancelled his scheduled meeting with them, and they say couldn't get an appointment with any other government minister.

In parliament on Thursday Mr Peters asked why the meeting with Mr English was cancelled.

Mr English wasn't there, and Mr Brownlee answered on his behalf.

"Ministers, from time to time, after considering advice, will decide not to progress previously scheduled meetings," he said.

Asked why no other minister was prepared to meet the activists, Mr Brownlee said he didn't have responsibility for the diaries of other ministers.

"That's a slack answer," Mr Peters said.

He then asked Mr Brownlee whether the government had "bowed down to Beijing officials ... because wealthy Chinese business interests are lining the pockets of the National Party".

Mr Brownlee, on Mr English's behalf: "No. There was no communication between my office or any Chinese official prior to the cancellation of the meeting."

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