Air New Zealand flight's U-turn sparks claims of China tensions

The flight was turned back around because of a permit issue one passenger reported

A passenger plane flying from Auckland to Shanghai was forced to turn back after some five hours in the air because it did not have permission to land, officials said on Sunday.

'A technicality meant the particular aircraft operating this service did not have Chinese regulatory authority to land in China'.

When asked to comment on the matter during a press conference on Monday, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the plane was "improperly temporarily deployed, failed to obtain destination permission, and took the independent decision to return while in flight".

China has a history of demanding global airlines not refer to Taiwan's independence or nationhood on its websites or promotional material, and in the past has urged Qantas, Air Canada and others to change how it refers to the island.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was questioned repeatedly, forced to defend the state of relations with New Zealand's largest trading partner.

In mid-2018, Qantas bowed to pressure from China to refer to Taiwan as a "territory" rather than a country on its website, the ABC reported. The source told the news site that the Chinese were "very explicit" about what they wanted the wording to be, but it apparently had yet to be addressed by the time the plane was in the air.

Flight NZ289 carrying about 270 passengers left Auckland shortly before midnight on Saturday only to return about 10 am on Sunday (2100 GMT Saturday).

In April 2018 the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) of China ordered a number of global airlines to change how Taiwan was described on their websites and promotional material.

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Air New Zealand did not immediately respond to further questions on the incident. The airline said all customers had since arrived in Shanghai.

Ardern was scheduled to visit China early this year but the invitation has been put on hold.

"It gets into the political situation and the way the different governments recognise or don't recognise states, and I would think Air New Zealand would be guided very much by what the New Zealand government position is ... therefore look at it in context of the New Zealand government's relationship with China". Both countries claim sovereignty over the other.

Subsequently New Zealand telco company Spark said it would not use the company as part of the 5G roll-out, although justice minister Andrew Little has stopped short of calling it a ban. It turned around several hours into the flight.

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