The Air NZ Flight 289 from Auckland to Shanghai, with 270 passengers aboard, turned around about five hours into the journey on Sunday after the airline discovered a "technicality", meaning the particular aircraft in operation, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, did not have regulatory authority to land in China.
"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".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has denied New Zealand's relationship with China has deteriorated under her government, following the latest bilateral "scheduling" difficulty.
Ardern said Monday the issue was that all aircraft flying into China need to be registered, and the Air New Zealand plane wasn't.
China has a history of demanding global 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.
For weeks there have been rumours that officials at the Chinese Embassy have warned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that the trip is not happening until other issues are resolved, something Mfat denies.
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.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a flight from New Zealand to China was turned back for administrative reasons and the incident has no bearing on the relationship between the two nations.
Air New Zealand did not immediately respond to a Stuff's request for comment.
Ardern cancelled her first planned state visit in November 2018 because both parties were too busy.
When asked about the status of the Huawei 5G contract, she said that data and security were the most important considerations, emphasizing that "it's not about vendor, it's not about country".
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.
While New Zealand was right to hold its line on an independent foreign policy, that did not mean ministers should not be careful in their remarks, he said. Air New Zealand announced in February a year ago it would begin flying between Auckland and Taiwan's capital city Taipei from November 1.