Air New Zealand Flight 289 from Auckland to Shanghai was about four-and-a-half or five hours into its journey Sunday when a "technicality" was discovered that meant the plane was not registered in China, the airline said.
Eric Hundman, an assistant professor at the Shanghai campus of New York University, told the New Zealand Herald the flight had taken as scheduled just before midnight on Saturday night.
"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".
When asked to comment on the issue by the news agency, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denied that it was an indication of strained relations between China and her country, and was instead due to administrative issues.
"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".More news: Cardi B Slams Grammys Haters In Expletive-Ridden Rant Before DELETING Instagram
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Opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges blamed Ms Ardern and her deputy Winston Peters for "steadily deteriorating relations" with China, and said ties were at the worst point ever.
"In the past New Zealand has enjoyed a consensus approach to foreign policy, a unified front, that's in New Zealand's best interests". "That was a outcome", she said.
The prime minister asserted that despite complexities in ties, Auckland's relationship remains robust.
"Our relationship with China is a complex relationship, it sometimes will have its challenges, but they remain an incredibly important economic and people-to-people partner".
The exhibition - featuring eight warriors standing 180 cm tall, and two full-size horses from the terracotta army, as well as two half-size replica bronze horse-drawn chariots - opened to the public on December 15 in the run-up to the beginning of 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism.
Acknowledging that there are geopolitical tensions rupturing between China & NZ isn't being disloyal to Jacinda, it's the inevitability of forces well beyond our shores. The exhibition runs until April 22, 2019. She said: "I have been issued with an invitation to visit China - that has not changed".