A senior New Zealand minister who criticised Canberra’s handling of its relationship with Beijing understands he “shouldn’t speak for Australia”, Trade Minister Dan Tehan says.
His NZ counterpart Damien O’Connor told Australia to “show respect, (and) a little more diplomacy” towards China on Friday.
Mr Tehan said he has since received a call from Mr O’Connor clarifying the intervention.
“On Friday, he made some comments. He rang me about those comments and said that he understands he shouldn’t speak for Australia,” he told Sky News.
“I really appreciated the fact that he picked up the phone and did that.”
Mr Tehan said he had held a number of conversations with Mr O’Connor since being appointed to the portfolio in December, and the pair would speak again on Friday.
A spokesperson for Mr O’Connor confirmed the conversation to NCA NewsWire.
“The Minister spoke with his Australian counterpart last week to reiterate, as he said in the interview, that we do not speak for Australia on this or any other matter,” they said.
“The Australia-China relationship will always be a matter for China and Australia.”
New Zealand updated its Free Trade Agreement with China last month, with Wellington lauding Beijing as a key ally.
But Mr O’Connor said on Friday Australia “too could hopefully be in a similar situation” if it changed its attitude towards Beijing.
The comments came amid deteriorating relations between China and Australia.
No meetings between Chinese and Australian trade ministers have been held for over three years, while the past year has been marred by China slapping sanctions on various Australian industries.
Mr Tehan confirmed Beijing has ignored a letter he sent to his Chinese counterpart outlining areas in which they could collaborate.
“It was a very constructive letter, and I‘m happy now to, to patiently wait for a reply,” he said.
“These things can take time and we’ve got plenty to do in the meantime.”
He would not say if Beijing had acknowledged receiving the letter.
An opinion piece published in Beijing’s mouthpiece the Global Times warned on Tuesday that Wellington would find it “difficult” to mediate the dispute.
“New Zealand’s national strength may not be enough to act as a broker in this case,” it said.
“The problem between China and Australia lies in the fact that the latter can hardly accept the rise of the former.
“It is not an issue that can be resolved by a third party.”
Australia and India have been locked in discussions over a FTA since 2011, and Mr Tehan stressed Delhi was an “enormous opportunity” for Australia.
Canberra has begun exploring an FTA with Israel centred on cyber security and defence, which Mr Tehan described as a “novel way (to) expand the reach of our trade footprint”.