Ardern would meet Dalai Lama if he visited NZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she will not shy away from criticising China if necessary. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she will not be afraid to criticise China's human rights record and will meet with the Dalai Lama if he visits.

Speaking to Newsroom in an interview, Ardern said the new Labour-led Government would not shy away from discussing difficult issues.

“That’s what countries with close relationships do. If you’ve got a robust relationship you are able to do that and we use our opportunities and bilaterals both to express the areas of cooperation and what we can gain together but of course express areas where we have concerns and that hasn’t changed," Ardern said.

China has a poor human rights record, but governments are often careful what they say about the country due to its importance as a trading partner.

The last Labour Prime Minister, Helen Clark, signed a groundbreaking Free Trade Agreement with China, but argued the deal would not limit New Zealand's ability to argue for better human rights.

Meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, is a complicated decision as it can often draw the ire of Chinese officials.

In the past, both Clark and John Key have stated they would meet with the Dalai Lama, but pull out when faced with the opportunity.

In 2007 Clark passed on the opportunity to meet because she had already bumped into him for 10 minutes previously at Brisbane airport, while Key also declined a meeting in 2009 because he "wouldn't get a lot out of that particular meeting".

Ardern said she was working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade during the Dalai Lama's last visit and would meet with him if he visited the country.

“New Zealand always acts in its own interests and from our own perspective.”