three manys?

November 20th, 2014

With Xi Jinping visiting New Zealand there is naturally an upspike in mentions of New Zealand in the Chinese press. Naturally, these mentions tend to be about Xi’s visit, but there are other things too. Things like this rather odd little article, attributed to Zhou Qiyuan of Nanjing Daily. “New Zealand has ‘three manys'”, the headline proclaims, “Many sheep, many birds, and many old people”. It then goes on to explain each of those ‘many’s one by one. It’s a pretty short article, so I’ll just translate the whole thing.

It starts with the ‘many sheep':

新西兰是现代化农牧业国家,一年四季都有绿草地,牧场管理先进,只见牛羊,不见人。全国人口四五百万,羊儿却有两千多万,羊毛、羊皮、羊肉制品出口占国家经济重要地位,被称为“骑在羊背上的国家”。

New Zealand is a modernised agricultural country. The grasslands through all four seasons. Farm management is advanced, and only cattle and sheep can be seen, but no people. The whole country has a population of four or five million, but there are 20 million sheep. Exports of wool, sheep skin and sheep meat products occupy an important place in the economy. It has been called “a country riding on the sheep’s back”.

媒体上有关羊的趣闻也多,前不久有一只羊逃避剃毛,躲进山洞,在野外生存了2年多才被牧主发现,念其追求自由的顽强精神,牧主宣布对其大赦:永不剃其羊毛。

There’s lots of interesting news about sheep in the media. Not long ago a sheep escaped from shearing and hid in a mountain cave, living in the wild 2 years before it was found by the farmer. In honour of its tenacious spirit searching for freedom, the farmer announced an amnesty for it: its wool would never be shorn again.

新西兰鸟多,而且鸟儿喜欢飞出树林,与人类相处,因为人们喜欢与它们分享美味,又不捕捉它们。首都惠灵顿市中心有野鸽、海鸥、麻雀等觅食,人们坐在公园长椅上,一边休息一边掰面包、饼干喂食鸟儿,那场景很是悠闲融洽。

New Zealand has many birds, and the birds like to fly out of the forest. They get along well with people because people like to share delicacies with them, rather than catch them. Wild pigeons, seagulls, sparrows, and other birds search for food in the centre of the capital Wellington. People sit on park benches resting and  breaking bread and biscuits to feed the birds, a sight full of leisure and harmony.

在新西兰,到处能看到老人开车。别担心,他们从年轻时就开始开车,早已轻车熟路。新西兰有一句歇后语就是:“老爷爷开车—四平八稳。”新西兰航班上竟然有 “空中老太”,她们都是以前的空姐、空嫂。新西兰的退休制度比较灵活,有按时与超时两种选择,到退休年龄,如果你愿意延期,而且体检合格,就可以继续工 作,所以这里的各行各业老人有很多。

Everywhere in New Zealand you can see old people driving cars. But don’t worry, they’ve been driving since they were young, and are long comfortable with the car and familiar with the road. New Zealand has a saying: “An old man driving a car – stable and steady”. On New Zealand flights there are “air old ladies” – former air hostesses. New Zealand’s retirement system is relatively flexible, and one can choose between ‘on time’ or ‘over time’. On reaching retirement age, if you want to keep working and you are fit, you can continue to work, so in every industry you can see many old people.

And that’s it.

What a strange, strange article. Granted, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in New Zealand, so things have certainly changed, but as I’ve been preparing to return to New Zealand I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the NZ media and internet, and nothing I have read, seen or heard suggests NZ has changed quite that much. Let’s look at it ‘many’ by ‘many':

  1. Many sheep. Yawn. The same old stereotype. At least they managed to update the numbers – when I was a kid it was “3 million people and 60 million sheep”, but economics has intervened since then – there’s much more money to be made in milk than wool, apparently. Still, ‘four or five million’ suggests Zhou hasn’t been overly diligent about getting accurate figures, and last I heard the saying was “built on the sheep’s back”, and applied equally to both NZ and Australia. Don’t forget, Australia’s most populous region is the southeast, the area inside the dog fence, which is traditionally sheep-farming country – for more, see “Waltzing Matilda”, and translate the lyrics into something approaching standard English.
  2. Many birds. On seeing that, I would’ve expected something about NZ’s native avifauna, which is pretty special in many ways. Remote islands do tend to have quite unique ecosystems. But no, pigeons, seagulls and sparrows. Of downtown Wellington. I grew up in Wellington, and I honestly can’t remember anybody expressing any fondness for those birds. Sure, people feed them. Sure, nobody tries to catch them – but why on Earth would you want to? I remember those birds as being seen more as flying rats and a nuisance than anything else. But then again, my wife has somehow got the impression that us Kiwis like our birds. That may say more about me than my compatriots, but she got that impression somehow. Oh, wait, we call ourselves Kiwis…. hmmm…. We have some pretty special native birds, like kiwi, kokako, kea, kereru, fantail, morepork, kaka, tui, pukeko, takahe, weka, whio, and so on, and so on…. But no, it’s people feeding flying rats in central Wellington that left a lasting impression on this reporter.
  3. Many old people. Oh dear. Every country has old people. China is also an ageing country with a lot of old people. I guess one obvious difference here is that widespread car ownership happened much, much earlier in NZ than in China, so the sight of old people who have been driving longer than most Chinese people have been alive is not so strange for a Kiwi, but perhaps a bit of a shock for this particular reporter. But that “New Zealand saying”? I’m going to go out on a limb here and accuse Zhou of interviewing her keyboard. After all, the second half, “四平八稳”, is a Chinese saying. But, sure, I can’t say I’ve heard of anybody being forced into retirement in NZ, although I have heard of that happening here in China.

So, altogether rather strange. Perhaps Nanjing Daily should consider sending a better reporter next time – one with a bit more life experience and keener observation skills, perhaps?

how long until we learn?

October 17th, 2014

This morning I sat in the classroom reading as I waited for students to arrive for their spoken tests. Among other things, I read chapters 3o and 31 of the Dao De Jing:

30: 以道佐人主者,不以兵強天下。其事好還。師之所處,荊棘生焉。大軍之後,必有凶年。善有果而已,不敢以取強。果而勿矜,果而勿伐,果而勿驕。果而不得已,果而勿強。物壯則老,是謂不道,不道早已。

He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Dao will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.
Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.
A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.
When things have attained their strong maturity they become old. This may be said to be not in accordance with the Dao: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.

31: 夫佳兵者,不祥之器,物或惡之,故有道者不處。君子居則貴左,用兵則貴右。兵者不祥之器,非君子之器,不得已而用之,恬淡為上。勝而不美,而美之者,是樂 殺人。夫樂殺人者,則不可以得志於天下矣。吉事尚左,凶事尚右。偏將軍居左,上將軍居右,言以喪禮處之。殺人之衆,以哀悲泣之,戰勝以喪禮處之。

Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. Therefore they who have the Dao do not like to employ them.
The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most honourable place, but in time of war the right hand. Those sharp weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the superior man; – he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity. Calm and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force of arms) is to him undesirable. To consider this desirable would be to delight in the slaughter of men; and he who delights in the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.
On occasions of festivity to be on the left hand is the prized position; on occasions of mourning, the right hand. The second in command of the army has his place on the left; the general commanding in chief has his on the right; – his place, that is, is assigned to him as in the rites of mourning. He who has killed multitudes of men should weep for them with the bitterest grief; and the victor in battle has his place (rightly) according to those rites.

And it occurred to me that in similarly ancient times at the opposite end of Eurasia from where Laozi sat somebody said:

Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

— Matthew 26:52

And yes, Laozi was writing circumstances very different to those in which Jesus was speaking, but the two sentiments are similar and not unrelated.

And it occurred to me that if people living 2000 and more years ago in places as diverse as Roman-occupied Palestine and Warring States China could come to such similar conclusions as to the value of weapons and violence, then surely, just like the Golden Rule, it must be a principle and a value so universal it can be found in one formulation or another in many different cultures, many different philosophical and religious traditions, many different times from ancient to modern, many different places.

Apparently people have done studies counting up deaths and their causes through history and have concluded that as time has marched on, people’s chances of dying early from violent causes have gradually trended downwards. Our species has been getting less violent, not that you’d know it from watching the news (so don’t watch the news). There is evidence that we are in fact slowly evolving from barbarity into something approaching civilisation. But for all the painfully slow cultural evolution over the four or five thousand years for which we have some form or another of written records (of varying and frequently dubious quality), some things about our species remain stubbornly the same. And so the writings and ramblings of ancient prophets, loudmouths, poets, madmen, sages, rabble rousers and philosophers remain as relevant now as when Socrates was handed his cup of hemlock.

And yet for all of our slow evolution into finding less drastic, more civilised methods of dispute resolution than grabbing the nearest weapon and lashing out and for all the people who have read the two books just quoted over the last couple of thousand years, our leaders still seem awfully eager to bellow their bellicose rhetoric, beat their drums, and march us off to War.

The Ancients warned us: War may sometimes be necessary, but it is never good, and really should be avoided if at all possible.

How long will it take until we learn?

Today I see news that a company called Dakang Muye (大康牧业) is planning to spend 2.3 billion to buy two New Zealand farms. Exactly how big a sum 2.3 billion is depends, of course, on which currency we’re using. I think it safe to assume from context that the currency is Chinese Yuan/Renminbi. In which case, 2.3 billion would translate to NZ$ 457,613,434.77. Now, I have no idea how that link to XE.com will work, but that is the figure I was given. Also, I googled “大康牧业”, and among all the news articles was a site that looked like it might belong to the company, but AVG gave me a big, red, angry “Danger! Don’t go there!” warning, so I won’t link to it.

My knowledge of finance and stock markets is extremely limited, so I may well make some mistakes here. If so, please do enlighten me. But the first paragraph seems to be saying that Dakang plans to raise 2.314 billion yuan through a private placement of 239 million shares priced at 9.69 yuan each, with the balance after fees have been paid to be used to purchase and remodel the Crafar Farms and Lochinver Station.

But wait! Wasn’t it Shanghai Pengxin purchasing the Crafar Farms and Lochinver Station?!

Well.

Paragraph 2 says that the company (Dakang) will use the money raised to buy 100% of An Yuan Dairy, An Yuan Dairy’s indirectly held title to the Crafar Farms, and the agreement to buy Lochinver Station signed by its subsidiary Pure 100. This will allow Dakang to indirectly take ownership of the Crafar Farms and purchase Lochinver Station.

Paragraph 3 seems to be a clarifier, answering, “So who’s who and who owns who?” I’ll do my best to get this all straight. Paragraph 3 identifies An Yuan as the Hong Kong-listed wholly-owned subsidiary of Dakang’s controlling shareholder Shanghai Pengxin. So, Shanghai Pengxin is selling 100% of its wholly-owned subsidiary An Yuan Dairy to Dakang, a company in which it has a controlling stake. Which begs the question: Who owns the rest of Dakang?

This paragraph also gives some basic information on the Crafar Farms and Lochinver Station. But the next paragraph is where it gets exciting, pointing out that the combined 22 thousand hectares of the Crafar Farms and Lochinver and the 4000 hectares managed on behalf of Synlait Farms would make Dakang the third largest holder and operator of farmland in New Zealand, with annual production of milk solids from these three farms [note: yes, Crafar is 16 farms, but the article treats them as one unit in this sentence] projected to reach 15 million kilograms.

And the goal, the next paragraph explains, is to create a unified production chain, allowing Dakang to supply all the infant formula and liquid milk for its subsidiary Shanghai NuZealand itself.

And yes, judging by this article from April last year, NuZealand is the ‘English name’ chosen for ‘纽仕兰 (Niǔshìlán)’.

And judging by this article from 21 July this year, Dakang bought a 0.64% share in NuZealand from its controlling shareholder Shanghai Pengxin for 8 million yuan.

And now I am running out of time, so I shall leave it at that for now.

going fruity

August 8th, 2014

IMAG1903

I’ve noticed more and more stores like this popping up around the neighbourhood recently. The earliest ones started to appear a few years ago, but there seems to be a sudden increase in them. Here’s a few points I’ve noticed about them:

1: The aesthetic seems to be largely the same among all such stores, from the general layout right down to the colour schemes, size, style, and fonts on the signage.

2: Although they are generally green grocers, the focus is definitely on fruit – to the point where the names of the stores, be they independent or branches of a chain, always feature the character (guǒ, fruit). In this photo, the store’s name is 果蔬鲜 (Guǒ Shū Xiān), which, in addition to having quite a pleasant sound, means literally “Fruit Vegetable Fresh”. Another new grocer I’ve seen is called 多果多 (Duō Guǒ Duō) – “Lots of fruit, lots”.

3: This is perhaps the important bit: These stores seem to be occupying a previously vacant niche between supermarkets and markets. The example in the photo above is located in a residential area right around the corner from a lane that becomes an impromptu market in the mornings. Not far away is the large, 2-storey barn that the local outdoor market was moved in to a few years back. About 500 metres down the road is a supermarket. And so the locals have choices: They could buy their fruit and veges from people squatting behind blankets spread out on the ground; They could walk a little further and buy from a market which is certainly cleaner and has a full range of other daily goods and necessities, but is still very much small stallholders, with all the nagging little questions about where they’re really sourcing their products from; They could trek down to the supermarket and pay definitely higher prices while getting no greater a range of produce to choose from; Or now they can shop at this new green grocer, which has a good range of fruit and vegetables, and whose set-up and signage projects that same air of security and confidence as the supermarket.

Now, Zespri is doing a very good job. Zespri is easy enough to find, especially in higher end/international supermarkets. Zespri is doing well enough that I’ve seen cartons of kiwifruit in suspiciously Zespri-like colours with suspiciously close to IPR-infringing labels. But I don’t see a lot of other New Zealand fruit around. It seems to me that New Zealand has two huge advantages when selling fruit to China, namely its clean, green, quality reputation and the off season. These new stores seem to me a good sign of the demand among ordinary Chinese for better quality goods and a better quality experience. Surely New Zealand could step up?


China Connection

July 18th, 2014

Note: This is a  very slightly altered version of a post I wrote on my Linked In profile. There’s a link to my Linked In profile on the right sidebar if you’re interested.

The New Zealand Herald has been running a China Connection series by Paul Lewis in association with the BNZ every Friday, and as the series continues it gets more interesting. Today’s instalment looks at SMEs and China, and there are three points that grabbed my attention.

The first point may well come across as a bit nit-picky on my part, but I will explain. Look at this sentence:

“Last month, BNZ took a delegation of exporters – dairy farmers, croppers and mixed agri-business interests – to Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, checking out export opportunities.”

There is a spelling mistake here, and it is not as minor as it seems. The problem is in the names of those three Chinese cities. Now, it is fair to not include tone diacriticals, as a strict adherence to the rules of Hànyǔ Pīnyīn would dictate, firstly because the article is in English and aimed at a general anglophone reader base, and secondly because very few Chinese people bother including tone diacriticals. Far more important, though, is the missing apostrophe. In Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, when the spelling of a word creates some confusion as to whether it is one syllable or two, or where the break between two syllables is not made clear by the spelling, an apostrophe is used to separate the two syllables. Xian is one single syllable, and therefore one Chinese character, perhaps 先 (first), 县 (county) or 线 (line). The name of the capital city of Shaanxi Province is Xi’an – the apostrophe makes clear that it is two syllables and where those two syllables break. In Chinese characters it is 西安 – you can see the difference between the city name and the monosyllabic possibilities above.

This is not just a writing teacher being unnecessarily or excessively fussy about spelling, nor is it a Sinicised version of the rage some feel at the sight of the infamous ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’. Attention to detail is important. David Cunliffe’s electorate office recently had a bit of bother digging up some old documentation because somebody had filed it under ‘Lui’ instead of the correctly-spelled ‘Liu’. I am aware of a recent case where somebody’s inattention to detail has caused quite a lot of strife for some new graduates, to the point where one has lost a job because her paperwork did not arrive in time, and other people’s jobs or enrolment in masters degree courses could be affected. Inattention to apparently minor detail can have some surprisingly big real world consequences.

The second point that grabbed my interest was this:

“The interests of the two countries tended to be complementary – Australian business tended to focus on beef and grains and minerals while New Zealand’s primary interest was dairy.”

The first reason that grabbed my attention is the image of the two countries playing to their relative strengths. That is absolutely what needs to be done. Unfortunately, in my experience in education, it is something that all too often fails to happen. I have seen far too many rely on something vague like “the English language” or “quality education”, perhaps with “comparatively cheap” thrown in. This is the wrong approach because plenty of other bigger, better known countries have exactly the same thing to offer. New Zealand is a very small player in a very large world, and so New Zealand needs to be very specific and very loud about the precise advantages and strengths that New Zealand has to offer. This applies to the country as a whole and to every specific company, organisation and institution looking to break into the China market. The deal EIT is doing with Qilu University of Technology that I posted about on July 4 (I hope that link works – I’m still getting used to Linked In’s set-up) is a good example of how things should be done – EIT playing up the specific strengths it and its region have to offer to a university and a region that stand to benefit directly from those strengths.

The third point to grab my attention was this:

Asked whether the two countries had a different approach to doing business in China, Healy said: “I think New Zealanders have a natural advantage in working well with other cultures. You can see how that comes out of daily life here.

“New Zealanders perhaps come across as more culturally aware whereas Australians maybe tend to be more strongly perceived as Australians. It means New Zealanders do well overseas, when dealing with locals from different cultures.

My experience has been different. Yes, New Zealanders do generally get along. I think that’s the advantage of coming from a conformist, non-confrontational culture – from an early age you are taught to find ways to blend in and compromise. But, well, put it this way: Although Americans have the reputation for being bad, ungrateful and ungracious travellers, I have met Americans who speak standard Mandarin better than most Chinese. All the Americans I’ve met in China who do not speak Mandarin have been apologetic about that fact. I have heard two New Zealanders boast about having lived in China for years and not speaking a word of Mandarin beyond the bear necessities to travel between work, home and play and keep themselves fed and watered. I have seen New Zealand programmes in China fail in part because management was blissfully unaware of the linguistic, cultural and social aspects of what they were trying to do in China. Quite simply, New Zealand does not value foreign language or cross-cultural communication skills anywhere near enough, and too few New Zealanders appreciate the importance of the linguistic, social and cultural aspects of business.

This ties into a theme that runs through Lewis’ article: Preparation. To succeed in China you must be well prepared. I have seen some arrive in China apparently thinking that Jim Morrison’s advice to Wayne in Wayne’s World 2 is all they need: “If you book them, they will come”. No.  In addition to all the usual legal, financial and commercial considerations, you need to remember that you’re dealing with a very different culture and a very different society, and that everything is going to be translated into a very different language. It sounds obvious, and it is obvious, but I’ve seen too many forget this. For example, your posters full of pictures of young people climbing mountains, surfing, skiing and kayaking might be great for recruiting New Zealand students who are looking as much at lifestyle considerations as they are at study opportunities, but they will have Chinese parents saying no and moving on – and yes, I have seen this. But wait, “New Zealand students”, “Chinese parents”? Well, yes. If it’s education you’re selling you need to understand that there is a very different set of equations governing who makes the decisions and how. So how do you attract Chinese students? What is written about China in English represents only one tiny part of the picture. To keep up with how things are changing in China and how those changes are going to affect your business, whether it’s milk powder or IT or education, you need to get a fuller grasp of the overall picture. During Fonterra’s recent DCD and botulism scandals the New Zealand media passed on Fonterra’s and the MPI’s assurances that everything was fine. The Chinese media reported something rather different.  You need to be able to listen to Chinese people and read what they write.

 

naive?

July 4th, 2014

Well, I’m kinda hoping for David Shambaugh’s sake that there’s a bit of misreporting going on here, quotes being taken out of context, or something like that, because:

“Google is down. Yahoo is own Bing is down. You can’t access the outside world.”

And that, dear friends, is

BULLSHIT!

I have my gmail open in another tab, I just googled David Shambaugh and opened the Wikipedia article on him and his page at the George Washington University website, and all of that without a VPN or any other jiggery pokery to get me outside the tender embrace of Nanny and her Great Firewall.

Yes, censorship exists, and yes, many websites are blocked. No NY Times, Youtube, Vimeo, Le Monde, Guardian or Blogspot. And now Flickr has disappeared (at least, for me) since Tuesday. Gee, I wonder what could’ve happened somewhere in China on or about Tuesday, pictures of which the CCP would prefer people not to see? But news of the birth of the Great Chinese Intranet, though long rumoured, is still most appropriately filed in the “grossly exaggerated” basket.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Shambaugh’s reported comments on China’s foreign relations. I would’ve thought somebody who’s been coming to China very regularly for 35 years and makes a living studying China’s international relations would have a more nuanced view of things. But this article gives the impression he takes a Cold War-tastic Us vs. commie Them view, and he expects (as so many North Americans and Europeans do in that, “Oh, we just assumed…” kind of way) New Zealand to fall very firmly in the Us camp. Then he discovers New Zealand isn’t quite toeing the expected line:

“Australia is doing it, Asean countries are doing that, India is doing that, Japan is doing that, the United States is doing that so it seems to me that New Zealand is a bit of an outlier in terms of regional relations and even global relations with China.

“To have good relations is not a bad thing but you have to have multi-faceted relations. You can’t just have relations with a country based on economic interests alone.”

Well:

  1. I don’t see the necessity for any particular country to jump on the “arm ourselves up to counter China” bandwagon. I don’t have a problem with countries that have active territorial disputes with China keeping their militaries up to date with a view to countering the perceived China threat, but I don’t see why Australia or the US need to join in, and I don’t see how their taking sides helps matters at all. I’m also growing rather tired of the automatic assumption implicit in this and so much reporting of China issues that China must be in the wrong. So far as I can tell, China’s territorial claims are just as in/valid as everybody else’s. There are no Goodies or Baddies here, just a whole lot of waving about of historic documents of dubious origin and relevance and chest-puffing buffoonery.
  2. Yes, I would agree that John Key’s government seems to focus international relations on trade relations to a rather excessive extent, but I can’t help but feel Shambaugh has focussed on that excessive focus to a greater extent than warranted.

As for the more serious of Shambaugh’s reported claims:

He said the repression was the worst it had been for 25 years

Well, I don’t know how you quantify such things. There certainly is much to worry about. But the article goes on:

He noted positively some reforms including the loosening of the one-child policy, an enhanced role for the market in determined resource allocation, making Government budgets more transparent, more fully funding public welfare and establishing agencies such an a super environmental agency.

There were also suggestions from the plenum that there could be other reforms in the financial sector, the banking sector, an improved foreign investment climate, enhancement of property rights, the tax system and legal and judicial reform.

He said there was real potential for policy break-through but he anticipated great bureaucratic resistance.

“It is not very common in world history for those who have wealth, power and privilege to voluntarily divest it in the broader interests of the nation.”

He suggested the party itself could now be the greatest impediment to reform.

Which suggests to me that Shambaugh’s views actually are considerably more nuanced than it first seemed. Now, I need to run off and print a couple of things before lunch, so let me keep this short:

Yes, there is a lot I’m seeing, on the streets, on billboards and banners and posters, in the media, and online that has me, shall we say, concerned. But there is, as suggested in the above slightly too large quote, plenty going on that gives cause for hope. I’m finding it really hard to figure out how things are going. But the idea that “multi-faceted relations” means “beefing up the military to contain China while still trading with China”, as this article implies, seems to me to be only marginally less simplistic and considerably more dangerous and less responsible than simply trading with China.

well, well, well

June 19th, 2014

And now that I have access to Blogtown again…. This post at the Repatriates I would’ve preferred to put here, but wound up posting over there thanks to a crapped out connection yesterday.

And now over at Public Address Russell Brown has weighed in. I find myself agreeing with him.

in which I rant a bit

June 7th, 2014

I didn’t quite know where to put this particular rant, as it doesn’t quite fit on any of the little online projects I have going. So I put it over here. Short version: I find the idea of requiring foreigners to pass a test before being allowed to drive on New Zealand roads obnoxious and ridiculous.

xenophobia?

June 4th, 2014

*note: This was written yesterday, but my connection to Blogtown crapped out so I couldn’t post it, so I posted it over here instead. Now that Blogtown is accessible again, I’ll post it up here where it belongs:

Xenophobia of many kinds seems to be a fairly common weapon in politics, and New Zealand is no exception. But what’s got me interested is the talk of foreigners in NZ politics this year, what with the election coming up. You’d think it’d be the same old Winston Peters hating on Asians, but no.

First up is National’s apparent inability to stop its ministers from having their relationships with Chinese business people revealed. Potentially dodgy relationships, like Judith Collins and Oravida, or relationships with possibly dodgy people, like Maurice Williamson with Donghua Liu. And apart from bashing his partner and apparently using his political connections to ease the residency and citizenship process, it turns out Liu was involved in a corruption case back in Chongqing. He wasn’t charged, it seems, but gave evidence as a witness. But look at this:

According to a court judgment obtained and translated by theHerald, Liu – as general manager of real estate development company Chongqing Tianlong – sold real estate to the political leader and his wife at heavily discounted prices, purchased some back at inflated rates and waived debt to a total benefit of $375,000 to the couple.

In return, the Chinese politician used his position to support Liu’s construction and cement businesses by approving projects as well as land permits and mining licences.

[……]

“Although Liu didn’t make a specific request in exchange for the gift, the intention was clear that as a county party secretary Ping Ma would have the power to benefit the companies in the future,” said the verdict of the Intermediate People’s Court of Chongqing.

[……]

“Although the behaviour is different compared to directly receiving properties, it is only a different method of covering their criminal acts of bribery.”

Aha. And:

Liu’s Auckland-based lawyer, Todd Simmonds, said that neither Liu nor his company was charged with any alleged offending.

“The involvement of Mr Liu in these proceedings was simply that of a witness,” Mr Simmonds said.

“Mr Liu does not wish to make any further comment in relation to this matter.”

It would be useful if he did make further comment. Because it certainly seems as if even if his business practices were legal, they certainly seem to have been unethical. Otherwise why would he have been a witness in a trial whose decision mentions his business practices in such an unfavourable light? “Although Liu didn’t make a specific request in exchange for the gift, the intention was clear that as a county party secretary Ping Ma would have the power to benefit the companies in the future” certainly seems to make it clear the judges considered Liu’s behaviour to be something other than squeaky clean.

And somehow Liu was granted first residency then citizenship against official advice. How and why? And what was that official advice? What were the reasons given recommending his applications be declined?

Of course, a major problem for Labour in all of this is that some of those dodgy decisions made against official advice were made under Labour’s watch. But those two big questions remain: Why did the relevant officials recommend Liu not be granted residency then citizenship? And why were so many Labour and National politicians so keen to help him out despite the advice of their own officials?

And what does this have to do with xenophobia? Well, nothing, directly. Whether it’s Oravida or Donghua Liu, it’s business people apparently getting favours from politicians. That reeks of corruption. Trouble is, they all involve Chinese business people, which would seem to play right into the hands of those crying Yellow Peril from whatever soapbox they can find.

But then there’s the fuss over Labour’s new questioning of immigration and threats to limit the number of immigrants. There’s good discussion, as always, over here at Public Address, and as Russell says, there are real issues that need discussion without people immediately reaching for the xenophobia card. But something is bugging me about all this. Maybe I’m reading too much into it all. Maybe it really is just an odd series of coincidences. Maybe I have too much invested in all these issues to see it clearly. But I’m just not comfortable with Labour’s questioning of immigration. But, there are, as noted, real issues to be discussed, and the case of Donghua Liu seems to highlight one of them, which apparently Labour wants to look at:

Labour is looking “very closely” at changing the rules for foreign investors who can get residency in New Zealand by paying $10 million.

[……]

Immigration spokesman Trevor Mallard said yesterday that one of the categories Labour would consider changing was business migrant schemes, introduced by National in 2009.

[……]

The Investor Plus scheme allowed an applicant to get residency if they invested $10 million in New Zealand and committed to living in the country for 44 days a year, even if they spoke little English and had no business experience. The Investor scheme required a $1.5 million investment but had stricter language, age and travel tests.

Now, this does not seem to be a very smart way to dish out visas, not to me. So they’ve got money. So they might agree to spend a tiny fraction of each year in New Zealand. Woopdedoo. Start a token business and fly in either for a Northern Summer ski holiday each Southern Winter, or flee the Northern Winter to enjoy Christmas and New Year at a more civilised time of the year. But of course, going to the Immigration website and finding out the actual rules is the smart option. Now look at that table. Yes, indeed, as the Herald article states, for an Investor Plus visa you only need to invest NZ$10 million for three years and spend at least 44 days of each of the last two years of that investment period in New Zealand. That’s it. You don’t even need any business experience. Contrast that for the requirements for the regular Investor visa, which are not especially stringent – overall band 3 in IELTS, wow, so you need to be competent enough to handle buying your own groceries – but do at least include some minimal business experience, and therefore proof that you may have actually earned your money and might know one or two things about investing and doing business.

Of course, there are health and character requirements for both Investor visas. But check out character. Based on the little publicly known about Donghua Liu, it’s only on that last bullet point that Immigration would’ve had grounds to recommend he not be granted residence. And that is a rather vague bullet point.

Tangent: This Entrepreneur Work Visa seems much more robust. I’d much rather be working for or with somebody who’d entered NZ under those requirements.

But this brings us to some numbers from that article on Labour’s rethink of the Investor and Investor Plus visas:

Immigration New Zealand data showed the number of successful Investor Plus applicants jumped from nine to 21 between 2010 and 2013, and from 30 to 99 people in the Investor category over the same period.

So we’re not talking a large number of people, which is strange because in all articles I’ve seen so far on Labour’s thinking on immigration, we see this, from earlier in this particular article:

The party has said it would place further controls on immigration after Treasury predicted net migration would soon increase to almost 40,000 a year, but it has not given details about cuts.

Uh huh. So how, precisely, is a review of two visa categories that apparently allowed a grand total of 120 people into New Zealand in 2013 going to have any affect on this predicted spike in net migration to forty something thousand? And if, as the government claims, a large part of the predicted net migration spike is due to Kiwis not jumping on planes to Australia and Kiwis facing an economic downturn in Australia jumping on planes home, then how is tinkering with immigration policy going to realistically affect anything?

So yeah, I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that at least some in Labour are cashing in on the happy confluence of National’s apparent ([ahem] Chinese) corruption problem, stubbornly skyrocketing housing prices and this predicted spike in net migration to try and drum up a little more support. “Oooh, look at the people National’s letting in! And they‘re buying up all our houses, driving the prices up so real Kiwis are priced out of the market! We’ll crack down on them!”

And then I read things like this piece by Lew over at Kiwi Politico, and Labour’s new focus on immigration just rings even less true.

an interesting idea…

March 23rd, 2014

This news is three days old, already, but I missed it on the day and only came across the story via an NZ Herald editorial published yesterday, but which I didn’t have time to read until today. It’s an interesting idea, boost New Zealand’s profile in China by having the All Blacks visit, but I’m not convinced. It’s not much of a story, little more than yet another of the “Oh, look, John Key!” puff pieces the NZ media has gotten so good at, and it seems to be based on even less, just a throwaway comment by John Key on seeing the China Agricultural University rugby team perform a haka:

The Prime Minister made the comment after he was greeted with a haka by a rugby team at the China Agriculture University (CAU), where rugby is a popular sport.

He said he believed the All Blacks should visit at some point.

“It’s the same thing we see happen in a number of other countries. They play exhibition games and I know the Rugby Football Union … are thinking a lot about this market.”

Mr Key said the CAU rugby team should travel to New Zealand to play universities. “I think those guys were good. They were big and strong and young and fit.”

And that’s about half the story right there.

Now, I think it’s a great idea for the CAU rugby team to visit NZ. Especially if they’re going to go performing haka for visiting NZ dignitaries, then they need to go to the source and understand what it is they’re doing. And any other Chinese rugby team, too. Just so long as they get decently-matched opponents. There’s also nothing wrong with having the All Blacks visit China.

But there is a really huge problem with all this. Rugby is not big in China – there you go, there’s my entry for understatement of the decade. Using rugby as a base for NZ-China sports diplomacy would mean NZ needing to start its marketing from a baseline of near zero awareness. For starters, rugby shares a Chinese name with American football, and apparently other codes with similarly-shaped balls. Every time students ask me what sports are popular in New Zealand, I tell them rugby, they reach for their dictionaries, and then it takes several minutes to stop them constantly repeating “Oh, American football” so that I can explain that the two forms of “olive ball” (literal translation of the Chinese name – 橄榄球/gǎnlǎnqiú, gǎnlǎn meaning olive, qiú meaning ball) are two completely different sports. But even then I find it nearly impossible to persuade people that rugby and American football are not the same. The overwhelming majority of Chinese people know nothing about either of these two sports beyond the fact that something called gǎnlǎnqiú exists and is played in faraway countries – and the USA, being so big, rich, powerful and the object of so many people’s obssessions gets a lot more brand recognition than any of the rugby powerhouses, therefore gǎnlǎnqiú is more likely to bring to mind men in tights, huge shoulder pads and helmets than rugby.

Also, mention “New Zealand” to any random Chinese person on the Mainland streets and if they know anything about the place, they’ll happily talk till the cows come home about beautiful natural scenery, sheep, and milk. It is exceedingly rare that anybody will mention any sport. The sports NZ is strong in simply do not register on Chinese radar. Not only that, but it is my experience that when exposed to sports NZ is strong in, Chinese people tend to think we’re a bit, well, mad.

And if the Rugby Football Union (who was Key referring to there? The NZRU? The IRB?) is as interested in the China market as Key seems to think, then they’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do not just raising rugby’s profile [ahem] building almost from scratch a profile for rugby, but also marking out a clear differentiation in Chinese minds between rugby and that other code involving men in tights, huge shoulder pads, and helmets. For example.

So I dunno, interesting idea, but it’s an idea that’s going to need a hell of a lot of work building up a foundation for it to have even the slightest chance of being noticed outside China’s infinitisemally small rugbyhead community.