February 1st, 2012
I’ve been following the bid by Shanghai Pengxin with mild curiosity and, I’ll admit, a vague sense of horror. Not horror at the prospect of a [gasp] Chinese company investing in New Zealand, but horror at some of the Kiwi reactions to that prospect.
Well, New Zealand can be quite good at shooting itself in the foot when it comes to dealing with foreigners. For example:
The women also called the police, but were told nothing could be done.
Sheesh. Remind me, what do we have Police for? And I note two passports were stolen – hardly a trivial crime, considering how useful and valuable false passports can be to some. But when it’s Chinese, or more generally Asians, some people feel the need to shoot the whole country in both feet. But back to Pengxin and the Crafar farms, what to make of this cartoon? Is Labour being accused of good old Yellow Peril fear mongering?
And it has been interesting watching the NZ Herald happy to help the government point out the lack of vocal public opposition to European and North American purchases of farmland. The statistics at the end of this article, for example:
The 16 Crafar farms have a combined area of about 7,900 hectares.
In the last two years, 357,056 ha has been approved for sale of agricultural land to foreigners, with majority ownership by country as follows:
* United States – 25,306 hectares
* Britain – 22,600
* Switzerland – 9727 hectares
* Germany – 6834 hectares
* Australia – 3861 hectares
* Hong Kong – 759 hectares.
So in the last two years Americans and Britons have bought vastly more New Zealand agricultural land, and really, where has been the hand wringing, gnashing of teeth, and appeals to patriotism? And doesn’t the history of New Zealand’s reform and opening up demonstrate quite clearly that Americans and Britons are no more likely to care a jot for New Zealand’s economic well-being? Alright, some will say, “But Kiwis are allowed to buy land in the US and UK, but not in China. Why should Chinese be allowed to buy land in NZ when Kiwis can’t buy land in China?” And I say, “Inform thyself.” Or, as Fran O’Sullivan reports the Overseas Investment Office pointing out:
“We note nevertheless that a consequence of New Zealand’s free trade agreement with China is that both Chinese and New Zealand businesses are able to invest in property in each country.
“However, unlike New Zealand, in China both Chinese and foreign citizens may only apply for a long-term leasehold of land. Private, fee-simple ownership of land does not exist in China.”
In other words, nobody can buy land in China, but New Zealanders are allowed to buy property and land use rights. So, really, what’s so unfair about Chinese companies being allowed to buy land in New Zealand subject to New Zealand law when New Zealanders can buy property in China in accordance with Chinese law?
I also note with interest her earlier paragraph:
Second, the OIO also notes (contrary to some very ill-informed comments on radio on Monday) that New Zealand firms have also looked abroad and purchased farmland to expand their own business activities. It says restricting foreign ownership of farmland would run counter to the policy operating in other countries, which could damage both New Zealand’s reputation overseas and restrict the opportunities for New Zealand firms to expand overseas.
Indeed. And if you wish to be left with the impression that Kiwis are pig-ignorant, loud mouthed gits, scroll down to the comments (in other words, when you get to the end of that article, please stop reading).
But back to that older article I pulled those stats from: Labour, you really should be worried when National and the New Zealand Herald are doing a better job of level-headed reasonableness than you:
What concerned him was that by implication, National was labelling every New Zealand opposed to the sale as anti-Chinese and possibly racist when what they opposed was “the sale of profitable New Zealand-owned assets to foreign interests.”
In fact the Crafar farm companies were in financial distress and were placed in receivership by Westpac in October.
Yeah, I thought there was some reason why it was a receiver and not anybody surnamed Crafar doing the selling. And:
On the show Mr Williamson said that when Canadians, Americans, Germans and Swiss bought farmland there had not been a”mutter or a murmur.”
“As soon as the word Chinese was mentioned, we are opposed to it. I have to say that is bordering more on racism than xenophobia.”
Damn it, Labour, will you please stop this?! I really don’t like it when I find myself agreeing with a National Party minister!
*Update: To be fair, they are now making noise about the sale of two farms (1000 hectares) to a famous North American maker of mostly atrocious (although some good) movies. Unfortunately that article ends with a piece of what is indisputably terrible news:
Cameron is expected to start work on the first of two sequels to Avatar later this year.
Well, I suppose given how awful the first Avatar was, it’s possible the next two might actually be an improvement.
And then I got to wondering how (or more correctly ‘if’, and then ‘if so… how…’) the Chinese media was reporting this. See, it’s not often New Zealand makes it into the news here, and I would generally prefer New Zealand to be making a positive impression on the few occasions it does. And so a quick Baidu news search found me this article, and I noticed that where the NZ Herald uses terms like ‘tough’ and ‘strict’ to describe the conditions imposed on Pengxin, Liberation Daily says:
Government’s conditions harsh
And I found that, after reporting (quite fairly) the opposition to the sale, including Michael Fay’s rival bid and promised legal action, and the conditions imposed, the last two paragraphs take quite an interesting tone:
Regarding local opposition and the OIO’s severe conditions, an industry insider believes that the main reason for all the twists and turns in the process of this purchase is that the dairy industry is a pillar industry, meaning foreign investment raises their vigilance.
Head of the Real Estate Operation Research Office of Fudan University’s Real Estate Research Centre Cai Weimin said that the dairy industry occupied an important position in New Zealand, to the point of being a lifeline industry. If this enterprise had invested in another area in New Zealand, perhaps they wouldn’t have had as much trouble. That’s why they have such restrictions.
Rough as guts translation, I know. But isn’t it interesting to see the Chinese showing more grace towards us than so many of us have shown towards them? Two Chinese looking at comments by the likes of David Shearer about selling off productive farmland to foreigners and becoming tenants in our own land, and said, “Hey, look at it from their point of view”, and then actually looked at it from a Kiwi point of view and said, “You’ve got to understand that dairy is a mainstay of their economy, so it’s natural they’ll be worried.” All I’d add to that is that dairy is a mainstay of the Kiwi diet and there’s been a lot of worrying about skyrocketing dairy prices of late. And that is a far better attitude to take than this economic nationalism with strong hints of xenophobia and Yellow Peril that Labour and others have decided to wallow in.
And all through this Crafar farms saga I’ve been looking at these figures and thinking, wow, one man owned 16 farms. How does one man neeed 16 farms, let alone run them all? And I’m thinking, if Labour is really so concerned about ordinary Kiwis being priced out of the market and becoming tenants in their own land, then perhaps they need to drop the xenophobia and look at limiting the number of farms any individual or company, whether Kiwi or foreign, can own? After all, this saga shows that Kiwis are just as capable of scarfing up all the land and keeping it for themselves as foreigners. If only a few Kiwis get to monopolise the land, then those few Kiwis are doing just as good a job of locking ordinary Kiwis out of the market as any foreign investor. Crazy idea, I know. After all, as Winnie Peters’ long, distinguished career shows, it’s far easier to shout, “Foreigners!”, particularly when those foreigners are Asian, and play on people’s irrational fears of the Other than to think up policies that actually make sense.