Former Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden has apologised for "an ill-judged" warning to business people not to trust Chinese.
The leading New Zealand businessman who was recently named as the new chairman of Auckland International Airport has been reported as telling a weekend business conference in Tauranga to be be wary of fraudulent behaviour when doing business in China.
Van der Heyden, who today attended his last board meeting as a director of Fonterra, New Zealand's biggest company whose biggest export customer is China, confirmed he did make the remark "Don't trust them ... never".
"It was taken out of context ... but I did say it, it was an ill-judged comment ... a silly thing to say."
Van der Heyden, who led Fonterra for 10 years until December, is also chairman of Tainui Group Holdings, the commercial development arm of Waikato-Tainui.
He said he was "really positive" about China and his talk on Saturday morning to the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce's businesswomen's network conference reflected that.
The comment he was apologising for was made during a response to a question from the audience.
"What I was trying to say was when you are working a new culture it can be different."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said van der Heyden's address about China had been very positive and focused on the great opportunities there.
However, Mason said he was not present at the question time.
Van der Heyden said he was speaking about exporting as a favour to a close friend involved with the conference, and was not there in any official capacity. Fonterra has multi-million dollar farm investments in China.
It was a minority shareholder under van der Heyden's leadership in the SanLu company at the centre of the 2008 melamine infant formula poisoning scandal in China.