The story, written by Matthew Rosenburg and Hamish Rutherford, claimed China was offering to construct the port in exchange for taking part in the country’s “Belt and Road” initiative, which aims to boost trade connections across Eurasia.
It claimed prime minister Henry Puna had been approached for comment on China’s alleged plans for Penrhyn, but had not responded – a claim OPM media manager Thomas Wynne says is false
In an email to CINews on Sunday, Wynne described the Stuff story as both untrue and irresponsible.
And he said the slight it put on the Cook Islands and its relationship with New Zealand and China was potentially damaging.
The story claimed that within the New Zealand government, there were fears the Cook Islands would be “the next Pacific domino to fall”.
The first paragraph said China had “blindsided” New Zealand by signing a multimillion dollar deal with the tiny island state of Niue – and was said to be on the brink of signing another with the tourism trophy that is the Cook Islands.
“China has already paid the Rarotonga administration millions for pelagic tuna fisheries licences, and there is talk of Beijing funding the development of a deep-water port on Penrhyn Island,” it continued.
The previous week, foreign affairs minister Winston Peters had met with Cook Island premier Henry Puna in Wellington and was understood to have warned Puna: “be careful what you are getting into”, the story claimed.
“China is seeking to sign up as many nations as it can to its belt-and-road-initiative, for a big announcement at APEC in Papua New Guinea this month. Negotiations are going down to the line, as China grapples for influence with New Zealand and others.”
Wynne said that on Friday afternoon OPM had received a phone call from Rosenburg who wanted to speak with the prime minister.
“I asked him if he could outline the questions he would like to ask, as this was protocol. I told the PM had a line of meetings in front of him, but that I would see if he could get a space to talk.”
However, Rosenburg had then emailed back to say it was “a little difficult” for him to provide a line of questions because he was unsure where things were at with the Belt and Road Initiative at the moment, Wynne said.
“And that's the reason I'm keen to talk with the prime minster,” Rosenburg wrote. I'm sorry I can't be more help, but I hope that makes sense.”
Wynne said it had not been possible on a Friday afternoon with little notice to arrange time for Rosenburg to speak with the PM, especially without any clear lines of questioning.
“I let him know it would not be possible and gave him the email of an official that could possibly answer what he needed to know. Nonetheless, and despite me saying I would get back to him, he rang yet again on my phone and at the office.”
Wynne said it had been “greatly disappointing” to discover in the published article that the reporter did have definite questions to ask - one being on an alleged proposal for China to build a deep water wharf in Penryhn. There was in fact no such proposal.
“He did not disclose his question about Penryhn when asked if he had any questions, and he instead hid behind a vague generic question.
“He also said in his story that there had been no response from the prime minister. This also was not true as we did respond by phone and by email.
“Rosenburg’s article sadly attempted to besmirch our relationship with New Zealand and with China and broke any sense of good journalism, referring to an undisclosed source and making sweeping generalisations, based on no evidence.”