A top business leader in New Zealand, which has been aggressively courting Chinese businesses, is apologizing to China for suggesting that businesspeople in the world's second-blargest economy are not to be trusted.

Sir Henry van der Heyden, a former chairman of the New Zealand dairy conglomerate Fonterra, issued an apology Tuesday to China and Chinese businesses for his comment in a recent speech to New Zealand businesses that they should never trust the Chinese.

Doing business in China is "full of surprises," he said to the group, according to the New Zealand Herald, New Zealand’s leading metropolitan newspaper. Asked by an export manufacturer how small New Zealand businesses could ensure they were not ripped off when trading in China, Sir Henry said bad experiences should be used as opportunities to learn.

"That's my point about China. You [sic] will be full of surprises," van der Hayden added. “Don't ever trust them...never.”

Later, realizing his blunder, van der Heyden issued the apology. "It was an ill-judged comment taken out of context," he told the Business Herald. "I apologize to China, its people and its government."

The timing of the remark was particularly awkward as New Zealand’s Auckland International Airport recently spent months courting China Southern Airlines to its international network and van der Heyden is slated to head up the board of the airport after the company’s annual meeting in October. The airport is working hard with tourism operators to attract more visitors from China, New Zealand's fastest-growing tourism market. Visitor arrivals from China through Auckland Airport were 37.2 percent higher last month vs. April 2012. The 208,257 visitors for the 12-month period ending April 30 this year was a record for annual Chinese visitor arrivals at the airport.

Current airport chair Joan Withers said she had spoken to van der Heyden and was satisfied the remarks had been taken out of context and that he was aware of the importance of the relationship with China. She said she was confident that relationships with Chinese airlines and tourist groups were strong enough for them to realize the remarks were part of a broader discussion about doing business in China, according to the New Zealand Herald.

"China is where New Zealand's future is," van der Hayden said.