New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Bill English canceled a meeting with two senior Hong Kong democracy supporters this week on advice from his foreign office, he said yesterday, underscoring a delicate relationship with China.
English said in an e-mailed statement that he canceled the meeting with former Hong Kong legislator Martin Lee (李柱銘) and former colonial chief secretary Anson Chan (陳方安) on the eve of the appointment after he was advised that it was “diplomatically sensitive.”
New Zealand has been more careful recently than Australia not to offend China as both Pacific countries jostle for export opportunities in the Asian giant.
“This is the first time it’s happened to me like this, a meeting was canceled at the last minute,” Lee told reporters.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) declined to comment at a routine briefing, saying she “did not understand the situation.”
New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully met Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) in Beijing earlier this week.
The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees it freedoms not enjoyed in the mainland.
Street protests calling for full democracy for Hong Kong in 2014 presented Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges in decades.
Dozens of pro-Beijing lawmakers walked out of the Hong Kong legislature on Wednesday to prevent the swearing-in of two pro-independence activists, setting the scene for a new constitutional crisis.
Lee has for decades campaigned for democracy for Hong Kong.
Chan has said China should trust Hong Kongers to pick their own leader.
English, who advised Lee and Chan of the cancelation by e-mail, said that it was “not uncommon” for the foreign affairs minister to advise on meetings with overseas visitors.
In contrast, Chan and Lee last week met with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and testified in front of the Australian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
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