The real reason plane was denied landing permission in China

An Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner plane taxis at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago Illinois on Nov 30 2018

New Zealand news website Stuff claimed to have spoken to multiple sources saying the turnback was down to a "reference to Taiwan which China took to be an acknowledgement that the island was independent".

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.

"We know customers will be deeply disappointed and frustrated by this situation and we are very sorry for the disruption to their travel plans", the airline said.

The same flight, NZ289, was turned back on a flight to China on Aug 24 a year ago, although an airline spokeswoman said that was due to an engineering issue, not a permitting one.

Earlier on Sunday, Eric Hundman, an assistant professor at New York University Shanghai, who was on the diverted flight, shared the apology message he received from the airline, confirming Ardern's assertion.

The issue reportedly involved documentation from New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority, which had been included with Air New Zealand's application to enable the plane to make a landing in China.

Air New Zealand has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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There is no doubt that the relationship is in a hard state, and many in media and foreign affairs circles are on the lookout for any sign that China is punishing New Zealand. "As you were advised onboard, the aircraft operating your flight did not have regulatory approval to land in China and was required to return to Auckland", the message from the airline said.

The incident has created a potential headache for New Zealand's government, which has recently suffered frosty relations with Beijing. "Them (the opposition) spreading misinformation around issues like this flight, I have decided I see it as irresponsible and a real departure from what we have experienced on foreign policy before", she said. "That was a effect", she said.

"Our relationship with China is a complex relationship and sometimes it will have its challenges", Ardern told TVNZ in an interview.

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.

New Zealand yesterday said Beijing had postponed an event to launch the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism 2019 in Wellington next week.

She said it was most likely the aircraft registration filed with the Chinese authorities was different from the registration of the aircraft that was used on the flight.

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