Long-haul New Zealand-China flight forced back mid-flight

Members of the Uighur community living in Turkey participate in a protest in Istanbul

Ardern also downplayed suggestions politics was to blame for an Air NZ flight to Shanghai being forced to return to Auckland after several hours in the air.

DPA said that China refused to allow the aircraft land because there is no permission from the Chinese authorities.

"Midway through our flight, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around".

Sources say that officials in Beijing warned Air New Zealand to remove reference to any paperwork which suggested Taiwan was a state back in 2018, but someone forgot to do so.

China has a history of demanding worldwide 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.

"I think it is important to be really clear and not confuse administrative and regulatory issues as issues to do with the relationship", Ardern told a weekly news conference.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said the Chinese let the government know a few weeks ago that there was a scheduling issue, and the event would happen eventually.

In November, New Zealand's intelligence agency rejected the telecommunication industry's first request to use Chinese telecoms giant Huawei's equipment in its planned 5G mobile network, citing national security concerns.

The unorthodox incident has prompted speculation the issue with the plane's paperwork was due to an error in the airline referring to the city of Taipei as the capital of Taiwan rather than a city in China.

The plane was almost five hours into its journey when it turned around.

Ardern's plans to visit Beijing past year were also put on hold due to scheduling problems, with her office saying in late November it was "difficult to find a time that suits everyone".

"We've got a situation right now where the Prime Minister is seeking meetings in China and she can't get them and there is a relationship problem here, " he continued.

In a statement late on Sunday, China's civil aviation regulator quoted the airline as having said the issue was due to "temporary improper allocation of the aircraft".

"Yesterday Air New Zealand was advised that the original application to have this aircraft registered to operate to China had expired and a fresh application was submitted". Both countries claim sovereignty over the other.

China's foreign affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Air New Zealand flight had turned around on its own accord.

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