Former Prime Minister Sir John Key has denounced US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, saying it was reckless and risked provoking China.

Sir John, who has enjoyed a close relationship with both China’s President Xi Jinping and former US President Barack Obama, told Q+A with Jack Tame Pelosi was “poking the bear” for personal ideological reasons.

“Why is she doing that at the end of her political career? And the answer is because she wants to make a personal stand,” Sir John said, who noted that Pelosi has always been a hawk on China.

“But at what cost, when that’s already putting enormous tension and increased tension on the Taiwan Straits?”

The White House sought to distance itself from Pelosi’s trip, pointing out the difference between the executive branch of the US government and Congress.

But the Chinese government took it as a provocation, launching missiles and escalating military drills around the disputed island of Taiwan.

On Thursday night, China’s ambassador to New Zealand made a statement in which they said that the US had “pushed the world to a dangerous brink”.

Sir John had long sought to bring about a closer relationship between New Zealand and China, both while he was in office and since stepping down.

“I mean, literally hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders’ jobs and incomes rest on the fact that our largest trading partner is China, and we sell a lot of goods there,” said Sir John.

In 2019, he made a personal visit to Xi, with the trip being arranged independently of either MFAT or the National Party.

When asked by Q+A, Sir John declined to give a view on whether he thought Xi is “authoritarian”.

“Well, he’s complete, if you like, in the sense that he’s wanted to rule the military, the party and the government, and that’s obviously an enormous amount of power in a country the size of China,” he said.

“But then you can argue, well, you know, that’s been the most efficient way of doing things.”

Sir John said he personally got on very well with Xi.

“I like him. I personally like him. You know, I think there are strengths and weaknesses in every leader and in everything that they do,” he said.

“All I can tell you is the relationship I had with him. That was actually, to be honest, he was extremely trustworthy, very open, consistent, treated the relationship with mutual respect, actually.”

He urged the current government to seek to avoid having to take a position amid growing tensions between the world’s two leading superpowers.