The plane was almost five hours into its journey when it turned around.
An Air New Zealand flight to Shanghai turned back mid-flight after the airline discovered it did not have permission to land because paperwork had not been filed.
"We know customers will be deeply disappointed and frustrated by this situation and we are very sorry for the disruption to their travel plans", Air New Zealand said. The airline said that all passengers have since been able to arrive in Shanghai via other flights.
Ardern had received an invitation to visit the communist country to meet Premier Li Keqiang a year ago, however the invitation was put on ice after New Zealand's chief spy agency, the GCSB, chose to nix plans to allow Huawei to build the country's 5G network, according to Otago Daily Times.
"We need to know what has happened here".
In November, New Zealand's intelligence agency rejected the telecommunication industry's first request to use Chinese telecoms giant Huawei's equipment in its planned 5G mobile network, citing national security concerns.
Opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges blamed Ardern and her deputy Winston Peters for "steadily deteriorating relations" with China, and said the ties were at the worst ever.
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"Our relationship with China is a complex relationship and sometimes it will have its challenges", Ardern told TVNZ in an interview.
"In the past New Zealand has enjoyed a consensus approach to foreign policy, a unified front, that's in New Zealand's best interests".
She said the incident had no bearing on the relationship between the two nations and she wouldn't be seeking reassurance on that point from Chinese officials.
"This was very much an administrative issue", she added.
The prime minister asserted that despite complexities in ties, Auckland's relationship remains robust.
MBIE officials are working with China to try to reschedule the official opening. "Is it part of the ongoing deterioration in relations between this NZ Govt & China?" The exhibition runs until April 22, 2019.
"Tourism is very important to New Zealand, but so is trade and our worldwide relationship - I think that it's very concerning that Jacinda Ardern is the first elected Prime Minister not to visit China within the first year in office since before Robert Muldoon, that in itself speaks volumes".