yet again

August 1st, 2013

Right, now that I have a functioning internet connection again, here’s what I wrote yesterday afternoon, although having to save most of it in another format did a few funny things with the formatting. Anyways, here it is:

Note: Updated below. It has been brought to my attention that comments in the article about Péizhī’s address are a bit overwrought, to say the least. I’ve also strengthened a bit of commentary on the tone of that article. See below.

Come on, New Zealand, when the Herad’s Christopher Adams writes:

New Zealand’s lucrative reputation for high-quality dairy produce continues to get a battering from the Chinese media, despite efforts by this country’s government to reassure consumers in the world’s second-biggest economy that Kiwi milk products are safe.

He’s not making stuff up. It’s not just coming out of thin air or the product of a fevered imagination. Although relying on China Daily doesn’t really cut it. That rag is published in English for a non-Chinese audience, really little more than a public diplomacy effort, just trying to push the official Chinese point of view. But still, looking at media published in Chinese for a

Chinese audience, yes, Adams is right. For example:

92吨进口奶粉遭退货

92 tons of imported milk powder recalled

And yes, that’s a general “substandard imported goods” story, but New Zealand certainly gets a dishonourable mention:

不合格食品名录显示,三批次进口奶粉亚硝酸盐超标,包括苏州市佳禾食品工业有限公司从法国进口的50吨脱脂奶粉,上海良昊置业发展有限公司从新西兰进口的28吨全脂奶粉,上海英联食品饮料有限公司从新西兰进口的14吨全脂奶粉。

The list of substandard food products shows three batches of imported milk powder with excess nitrites, including 50 tons of skim milk powder imported from France by Suzhou’s Jiahe Food Industry Company Limited, 28 tons of full cream milk powder imported from New Zealand by Shanghai’s Lianghao Property Development Company Limited and 14 tons of full cream milk powder imported from New Zealand by Shanghai’s Yinglian Food and Drink Company Limited.

Alright, not much detail, and a lot of other countries are mentioned too, but this has been going on for a long time now and one would think NZ’s dairy exporters would have learned. But this article on the People’s Daily website, but attributed to Cao Ping of Qianlong Green Beijing, is a whole different storyl, focussing on New Zealand and going into a lot more detail:

Read the rest of this entry »

somebody finally notices

November 13th, 2012

And so somebody in New Zealand finally notices that China is rejecting substandard infant formula imported from New Zealand. And no, there’s no indication that this lowly blog, my meagre efforts, and the great assistance of Messrs Martinsen and Ji had anything to do this, no. Christopher Adams had a look at People’s Daily’s English site and Shanghai Daily (go to his article for the links) and tracked down the same Ioland site that provides a Ningbo address (wait… does the fact that his link opens to Ioland’s Chinese page imply he reads Chinese? I don’t know, but I hope so – Sinoliterate NZ journalists could only be a positive development). But does this imply that only Christopher Adams of the NZ Herald has noticed? Try again… Apparently, yes.

This worries me because the implications for New Zealand’s economy if this substandard New Zealand infant formula and fake New Zealand brand story continues to build steam here are not exactly positive. If New Zealand doesn’t sort this issue out then it could well find its biggest export earner frozen out of its biggest potential market.

But Mr Adams did manage to get in touch with Sutton Group and Carrickmore Nutrition – and I note a Carrickmore Limited of New Zealand is named in that Word document Mr Ji found yesterday for problems with its labelling. These four paragraphs sentences are what leap out at me:

James Shortall of Sutton Group would not confirm or deny whether the firm made Ioland products.

Some formula was being rejected by Chinese authorities because of different testing regimes in China and New Zealand, and Sutton Group was confident babies would be safe consuming all the products it made, Shortall said.

Chris Claridge, managing director of Christchurch-based infant formula exporter Carrickmore Nutrition, said some of the product rejections in China were “questionable”, but the coverage of the insufficient iodine levels in Ioland products was a concern as it tarnished all New Zealand infant formula brands.

A large number of Chinese baby formula companies were creating “false fronts” by registering in New Zealand, giving the impression they were Kiwi firms, Claridge said.

So, it would seem likely, although by no means certain, that Sutton Group produces Ioland infant formula. But I really don’t see how it’s constructive to blame the different testing regime or label product rejections as “questionable”. Especially considering Sutton Group has failed inspection before. China has standards and a testing regime, New Zealand companies wishing to export to China can find out what they are and can ensure their products meet those standards as measured by that testing regime. And then there’s this:

Michael Barnett, independent chairman of the newly formed New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters Association, with 10 founding members, said the group was working to set standards for exporters, while establishing a “line of communication” with Chinese authorities.

See? That’s a much better approach. Get the industry together, figure out what they need to do to succeed in China, and hopefully take the obvious next step – set up systems and practices to ensure that New Zealand products pass China’s testing regime and meet China’s standards.

I’m really not sure what to make of the final sentence and MPI’s rather enigmatic statement that its figures don’t match those in some Chinese media reports. How do they not match? What are MPI’s figures? How do those figures compare with AQSIQ’s?

But it is nice to see this issue getting some coverage in the New Zealand media. It’s a start. Hopefully this coverage continues and we start to see some answers as to why New Zealand infant formula is failing inspection in China, how this issue can be resolved, and what New Zealand dairy exporters are doing to ensure their products are not rejected by China.

how much more?

November 12th, 2012

Mr Ji found still more about about Chinese brands selling infant formula produced by Sutton Group, two articles online and a Word document that looks like it comes from AQSIQ.

First up is Qinbei’s article taking a rather general look at AQSIQ’s list of substandard imported food and cosmetic products for August. It’s a fairly equal opportunities article lacking that focus on the dodgy New Zealand produce in other articles I’ve seen of late, but it does raise two products with an apparent New Zealand connection.

First is 优萌/Ustrong, which Qinbei says is from Singapore. Odd, because both Mr Ji and I trace it to Hong Kong. I also found Ustrong .com and .com.cn websites, but I get a 403 warning trying to open them. Not sure what’s going on there. As Mr Ji said in his comment, Ustrong does claim to be made in New Zealand. I was intrigued to see 新西兰 on the pictures of the cans, as I thought 纽西兰 was more common in Hong Kong. Whatever, the New Zealand connection is made and Qinbei reports that 5 tons of its stages 1 and 2 formula were found to contain too much sodium and potassium and not enough protein. Maybe its my unfamiliarity with trad characters getting in the way, but I’m not finding any information about who in New Zealand actually makes Ustrong, or precisely where it’s made, or anything similar.

And then Qinbei mentions 奥兰 again, but this time with the ‘English’ name Orkloland. I really can’t figure out if the 奥兰 that uses the ‘English’ name Orkloland is the same as the 奥兰 that goes by ‘Ioland’. But again its the same problem with iodine levels.

And then Mr Ji found this 北京晚报/Beijing Evening Post article playing up the ‘假洋牌’ (fake Western brand) angle, tying it in with other scandals in which brands claiming to be Western were revealed to be purely Chinese. This article reveals another brand claiming to be selling formula made by Sutton Group, 纽瑞滋, which Google suggests is this Nouriz.  And then it suddenly starts to look like a bit of a puff piece. It says that Nouriz and Sutton Group fronted to the media for the first time to explain their situation, but nobody from Sutton Group is mentioned and the only independent voice seems to pretty much agree with the founder of Nouriz. The Nouriz founder, Liu Ning, is quoted as saying:

纽瑞滋是华人创建的品牌,销售的是原装进口产品。

Nouriz is a brand created by Chinese selling imported product in the original packaging.

Nouriz is a family of companies registered both in Shanghai and New Zealand, the entire production process, including packaging, is done in New Zealand by Sutton Group, and the Chinese branch handles sales and after sales service in China. It is also pointed out that as Nouriz infant formula is made in New Zealand and sold in China, it is subject to both countries’ standards and therefore does nothing to weaken Chinese safety standards.

Liu Ning then argues there’s a bit of a misunderstanding. In its marketing material Nouriz emphasises that it is made in New Zealand, it has never claimed to be a Western brand, although some have thought that it is. And looking at their website that does seem to be a reasonable statement. The contact page, for example, lists only Chinese phone numbers and addresses, and the entire site seems entirely devoted to the Chinese market. The “made in New Zealand” claim is out there and emphasised, but I can’t see any claim that Nouriz is anything but a Chinese brand.

And if all of these claims are true, Nouriz infant formula really is produced in New Zealand and really does meet both New Zealand and Chinese standards, then I’m finding it hard to blame Liu Ning or Nouriz. Why shouldn’t they play the ‘Made in New Zealand” angle? Where do they claim to be anything other than a Chinese brand selling infant formula produced in New Zealand?

But the continued 奥兰/Orkloland/Ioland confusion and the frequency with which Sutton Group products are showing up in AQSIQ lists of substandard imported food products really does have me worried.  Which brings me to that Word document Mr Ji found. It does look like it belongs to AQSIQ, but buried in the address I saw this: www.ccccq.org. I don’t know what business an electronic and electric appliance quality supervision and inspection station would have with food products, but never mind. The list is interesting. Sutton Group is by no means the only New Zealand company exporting substandard products to China named, but it is there twice, once under its English name, and once under its Chinese name. Under its Chinese name of 新西兰善腾有限公司, Sutton Group is named for exporting to China 奥兰(Ioland/Orkloland) infant formula stages 1, 2 and 3 and stage One 200g that do not meet the iodine content standard and under its English name for exporting to China 佳顿可儿金装婴幼儿配方奶粉/I’m struggling to find an English name for it, but it’s marked as having problems in the selenium, iodine and lactose content/selenium content/selenium content. I assume that’s for stages 1, 2 and 3 respectively. These problems seem rather similar to other problems reported with Sutton Group-produced infant formula.

And so I’m still confused. On the one hand, I can’t see a problem with Chinese brands that source their product in New Zealand and then play up the NZ connection in their marketing. On the other hand, I do see a very big problem for New Zealand if we have companies exporting substandard infant formula. Playing fast and loose with the health of people’s children is not a good long-term marketing strategy. And on yet another hand (I’m going to need Guanyin’s help with hands before too long… ) there’s the huge risk of brands slapping a “Made in New Zealand” label on product that isn’t.

What I do know is that New Zealand has to act to protect its reputation – and not to continue to maintain an undeserved reputation (“clean, green”… clean thanks to the lack of people, green as in the colour of the cowshit-sodden lowland waterways), but to make sure the reputation for quality, clean, pure products is both deserved and preserved. What I also know is that I haven’t seen mention of this problem in New Zealand’s media…

the plot thickens

November 11th, 2012

And the plot thickens. On Weibo, Mr Ji alerted me to this article. I’m not sure how to interpret the headline (and let’s face it, it takes years of training, supervision, and practice to become proficient in that darkest of arts that is headlinese), but this is on a website run by”中國防偽碼查詢中心有限公司“, giving an English name of “China anti-counterfeiting code inquiry Centre Limited“, and this line sets a clear enough tone for the article:

奥兰奶粉被曝假洋品牌 实为中国宝宝特供奶

Ioland milk powder has been exposed as a fake Western brand, in fact it is exclusively supplied to Chinese babies

At this stage I think ‘fake’ is a touch harsh. If, as this article states and the Ioland website Mr Martinsen found claims, Ioland is made by New Zealand’s Sutton Group, then it is actually ‘Western’ or ‘洋’ in origin, but this article states that Ioland and several other brands of infant formula made for Sutton Group are simply not sold out of China, not even in New Zealand, and are in fact packaged exclusively for sale in China. So, sure, the milk may be ‘Western’, or at least ‘南太平洋’ in origin, and may well have been turned into infant formula in a country generally considered to be ‘Western’, but the brands are ‘fake Western’ in that they are brands sold exclusively in the Chinese market and not available in ‘the West’.

The ‘fake Western’ brands produced by Sutton Group named in the article are: 纽贝贝 (Newbaybay), 奥兰 (Ioland), and 纽贝斯特 (NBST (is that a New Baby Best I see in miniscule print?)), but they come with a 等 – etc – afterwards, so presumably there are others, or at least the reporter or subeditor wants us to think so. Note how they all play up the Made in New Zealand connection? This is not uncommon in the marketing of infant formula in China. Note also that the 纽 in two of those brand names also occurs in the common Hong Kong and Taiwan transliteration of New Zealand that makes an occasional appearance here on the Mainland – 纽西兰/Niǔ Xīlán.

Now, given modern China’s flood of food safety scandals, including fake infant formula of zero nutritional value and adulterated infant formula and the obviously huge investment into children who are often the only ones their parents will be allowed – and increasingly the only grandchildren their grandparents will be allowed – it’s perfectly understandable that Chinese infant formula companies would play up the New Zealand connection when marketing formula they source in New Zealand. It’s also to be expected that companies sourcing their formula right here in China will claim it was made in New Zealand. And it’s a touch ironic that one of the biggest adulterated milk scandals was sparked off by a Fonterra joint venture that turned out to be the worst culprit of all those caught in that scandal, but never mind… But the big questions to ask are, of course:

  1. Is the formula actually manufactured in New Zealand from New Zealand-sourced milk?
  2. Does the formula meet New Zealand and Chinese standards?
  3. Is the formula being exported legally from New Zealand by a registered dairy exporter?

Trouble is, I see no statement in the article Mr Ji sent me that the reporter checked with Sutton Group that Ioland, Newbaybay, NBST, and the apparent other brands of infant formula are actually manufactured by Sutton Group. It is clear that the original reporter sought information on Sutton Group, but it is not clear whence that information was sought. Sutton Group’s website does include brief introductions in Chinese, but says nothing that I can see of the brands it manufactures for. I did email Sutton Group to ask about their relationship with Ioland, but have yet to receive a reply (and fair enough, it is still the weekend, and I’m not anybody important). If I do receive a reply, I might ask about these other brands, too.

But you know what? If these brands are selling infant formula manufactured in New Zealand, that formula is legally exported (and therefore subject to NZ quality controls) and that formula reaches, or preferably exceeds, the standards mandated by Chinese and New Zealand law and relevant regulations, then I have no problem with them playing up the New Zealand connection in their marketing (so long as they don’t confuse the New Zealand and Australian flags, for crying out loud!). It makes absolutely perfect sense for companies to play up the advantages of their products, so if you’re on the up-and-up, then go for it. But I am concerned about how many eggs New Zealand seems to be putting in the “let’s rely on dairy exports to emerging Asia, especially China, for our economic survival” basket, and how quickly and easily that basket could be snatched up, its eggs thrown on the ground and trambled on, and the basket set on fire if too many less than scrupulous  companies start to get too much attention in the media for slapping “made in New Zealand’ labels on product made anywhere but, attracting the ‘fake Western’ brand label, or selling New Zealand product that falls short of the relevant standards.

New Zealand is a tiny economy at the edge of Nowhere, and we really can’t afford to have ourselves shot in both economic feet in our rush to get ahead.

more on Ioland

November 10th, 2012

Mr Martinsen did the obvious and found the Ioland website. Why it never occurred to me to google Ioland even though I knew it was East Tree’s trading name I don’t know, but never mind… It states very clearly:

All the products are manufactured strictly under every single infant food safety standard in New Zealand by Sutton Group New Zealand.

On its Strategic Partner page it has a brief introduction of Sutton Group, placing it in Airport Oaks and with a picture that would seem to be taken from Sutton Group’s homepage, but I can not find any mention of East Tree or Ioland on Sutton Group’s (rather uninformative) website. They do have a ‘contact us’ page, perhaps I could try asking them…

I note that a Sutton Group of New Zealand has previously been caught exporting substandard infant formula to China, with that previous incident also involving iodine levels.

Ioland also claims:

As a registered dairy maker in Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), the products of this expert team are now distributed to global customers across Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania.

Great. But is it a registered dairy exporter? Because my understanding is that is the status required to legally export dairy products from New Zealand. Well, they do also have a ‘contact us’ page, so I guess I could ask them too, but…

…The address listed on Ioland’s website, whether the Chinese- or English-language versions, are for Ningbo, Zhejiang, China, and not the Auckland, New Zealand address for East Tree International Trading Limited that the Companies Office says uses the Ioland trading name. Well, I guess I could ask them about that, too…

I do notice, though, that although Ioland does use the same Chinese name for its products, 奥兰,  as that which has had 26 tons of infant formula recalled over iodine levels, I do not see that really weird seeming English name Orkloland that I found yesterday. But I’m struggling to find a “超级金装” on Ioland’s products page.

And I have one more question: If they’re so keen to play up the “made in New Zealand” angle and have a silver fern logo in the bottom left corner of every page on their site,

why the hell do they have an Australian flag next to the Chinese flag on their website?!

Just for the record: Yes the Aussie and Kiwi flags are similar, but the New Zealand flag has four five-pointed red stars with white borders. The Australian flag has six seven-pointed stars of varying sizes, all of which are white.

still more dodgy milk powder

November 9th, 2012

Well, if New Zealand is going to bank its future on dairy exports to emerging markets in Asia, the first line of this article should be cause for alarm:

质检总局通报进境不合格食品名单,其中过半来自澳大利亚和新西兰

AQSIQ released a list of substandard imported food products, of which over half come from Australia and New Zealand.

This ain’t a good look, especially when it’s infant formula:

新西兰“奥兰超级金装婴儿配方奶粉”共26吨因碘含量不符合国家标准要求而被退货

26 tons of New Zealand’s Orkloland Super Gold infant formula were required to be recalled because the iodine content did not reach the national standard.

ORKLOLAND?!?!?!? The Chinese name sounds quite normal, but Orkloland looks, sounds and feels weird, and that google.co.nz search makes it sound even weirder. The Companies Office doesn’t seem to have heard of it. Ah, here we go, it’s a trade mark registered to East Tree International Trading Limited, whose sole director is one Hailin DU, and whose address seems to place it in a residential-looking area of Auckland. One does have to wonder how 26 tons of infant formula, substandard or otherwise, originates in a house in a very ordinary-looking suburban Auckland street. Looking through Food Safety’s list of registered dairy exporters, I see neither East Tree nor Orkloland, nor Ioland, which the Companies Office says is East Tree’s trading name, nor Hailin DU. I’m also failing to find a registered dairy exporter with the same address as East Tree. The Companies Office doesn’t list an email address, so I can’t compare that with the email addresses on the list of registered dairy exporters.

And now I’m wondering: Is this Orkloland/奥兰 for real? Is it actually produced in New Zealand? Is it legally exported? From the information I’ve found, I really don’t know.

And the article’s last paragraph is interesting. It says that before the melamine incident there were only 5or 6 domestic [presumably Chinese] companies that had registered milk powder brands in countries like Australia and New Zealand, but that number jumped to over 20 after the melamine incident.

“三四年前新西兰的奶粉品牌只有五六家,而目前新西兰的奶粉品牌猛增至20余家,新注册的奶粉品牌大多找当地企业代工,专供中国市场。”乳品专家王丁棉告诉记者。

“Three or four years ago there were only five or six New Zealand milk powder brands, but since then the number of New Zealand milk powder brands has exploded to over 20, and most of the newly registered milk powder brands find local [presumably New Zealand] companies to produce for them then specially import it to the Chinese market,” dairy product expert Wang Dingmian told this reporter.

Should I interpret that to mean that Fonterra partner Sanlu getting caught doctoring its milk with massive amounts of melamine and every other Chinese dairy company other than Sanyuan caught with at least some melamine in their products launched a rush of Chinese businesses to New Zealand to source milk powder from a “safe” country? Am I to take it that not all of these businesses are entirely scrupulous, that they’re happy to trade on New Zealand’s clean, green image, but not so keen to make sure their products live up to that image? This has me worried.

Curious. I came across this story, then opened up the NZ Herald’s Education section to see what they had, and found this. Both tell pretty much the same story, but with a few differences in emphasis, and the Herald’s Lincoln Tan gives a little more detailed information. A quick summary: A Chinese student by the name of Cathy Luo went to different private training establishments with her Japanese friend to find an English course, only to discover that she would be charged considerably more for the same course than her friend because she held a Chinese passport.

Different emphasis: Whereas CNR’s report waits until the very end to present the Human Rights Commission’s response, Tan puts it right in the second paragraph, sending the reader into the article knowing that the practice of school’s charging different fees to students from different countries studying the same courses has already been deemed probably illegal.

Extra detail: Tan names one of the training establishments, Kingston Institute, which charges students from China, Korea (presumably South) and Vietnam NZ$2250 for a 12-week English course for which students from Japan, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are charged NZ$1500.

Both articles state that Ms Luo was offered a bulk discount rate – the same fee as her Japanese friend – if she recruited at least 2 other Chinese students, but Tan in the Herald adds:

“I really didn’t know trying to find a price for an English language course at a school here can be so complicated,” Miss Luo said in Mandarin [my emphasis]. “I feel it is really unfair that international students are being penalised just because of where we come from, and I don’t think language schools should behave like they are souvenir shop retailers trying to rip off tourists.”

Now, I emphasised the in Mandarin because I find this a curious little detail to add. Does this imply her English skills, or perhaps her confidence in her English skills, are not up to an interview with a journalist in English? She is, after all, looking for an English language course. If that is the correct reading, then can we infer anything about the behaviour of Kingston and the other unnamed institute?

Both articles quote Darren Conway, chairman of English New Zealand. I’ll use the Herald’s quote – why translate when I already have an English version?:

But English New Zealand chairman Darren Conway said it was “reasonable commercial practice” for providers to charge different rates for students from different countries.

“The ability to pay by students and the general market conditions vary from country to country.”

Mr Conway, who is also chief executive of Languages International, said overseas education agents were also paid different commission rates to recruit students for Kiwi schools.

“For example, while our standard agency rate is 20 per cent, we pay 25 per cent to most of our partners in Switzerland because they are so professional, and the costs of operating in Switzerland are much higher than they are in, for example, China,” he said.

Ah, right. But hang on, Tan of the Herald also goes to Andy Leighe, Kingston’s international department head, saying it’s about Kingston’s marketing direction:

One of the reasons we are offering South American and Middle Eastern students a cheaper rate is because we want to get more students from those markets

I think I can see Leighe’s point. They want to build a market in South America and the Middle East – fair enough, New Zealand’s export education centre does seem very heavily reliant on East Asia, China in particular – and one way to do that is offer discounts. Get more people in, let them talk to their friends and families back home, in conjunction with more formal marketing build a reputation in those regions, attract more students….. it seems to make some sense.

I can also see Mr Conway’s point about paying different agents different commissions. You get what you pay for. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Other relevant cliches.

But I absolutely can not for the life of me mesh Conway’s “The ability to pay by students and the general market conditions vary from country to country” with the practice of charging students from relatively poor countries like China and Vietnam so much more than students from wealthy and stonkingly rich countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia. Even less so when New Zealand’s human rights laws expressly forbid discrimination on the basis of national origin, among other things. I agree with the Human Rights Commission in that this certainly reeks of illegality – might as well put a sign on the door saying “Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese not quite banned, but not especially welcome”, cos that’s effectively what they’re doing – but even if they could get the approval of a court of law for this practice of charging depending on the passport presented, I can not see the economic logic. You want to strengthen your left foot, so you get a revolver and shoot yourself in the right foot? I’m sure it’d be an effective method, albeit with the minor drawback of later requiring you to shoot yourself in the left foot in order to get your right foot back up to speed. Or find a better exercise regime.

I dunno, for years now I’ve been reading of all kinds of dodginess in the privately owned and operated branch of New Zealand’s export education sector. Schools suddenly closing leaving students in the lurch. Rampant plagiarism and massaged grades. Students being sent off to university with all the right bits of paper but woefully inadequate English skills. Attendance systems that allow students to keep their student visas while they’re really out working in vineyards and orchards instead of studying. Something’s gotta give, cos this news filters back to the sources of our foreign students. Do we really want New Zealand to be to international education what China is to cheap, mass-produced consumer goods?

I guess when I hit publish, I will instantly narrow my chances of being able to find work in New Zealand…. deap breath…. here goes…

…sigh…

Judith Collins in China

June 26th, 2012

So my Baidu news alert for 新西兰 threw up three potentially interesting articles this morning, and once again I find myself better served by the Chinese media than the NZ Herald or Stuff. New Zealand Minister for Ethnic Affairs Judith Collins is in Beijing meeting State Councillor Meng Jianzhu, State Ethnic Affairs Commission chairman Yang Jing, and vice chairman of the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office Zhao Yang. A google.co.nz news search for “Minister of Ethnic Affairs” (yes, that ‘of’ should’ve been a ‘for’) gets a list of 7 articles about her impending visit here – but I notice it’s once again Chinese media at the top of the list, and of the NZ websites, there’s only one that I’ve heard of before (not that that is in anyway meaningful) – and 2 here – and once again, Chinese media at the top and I’ve never heard of the NZ site. There’s also a press release on the Beehive website, which was picked up by Scoop – the only NZ website in those two pages of google.co.nz results I recognised. No commentary or reporting. Changing the search to “Judith Collins” gets nothing about her visiting China on page 1. Nope, you have to go to page 2 to find this lonely and rather pathetic articlette, and page 3 reveals the Global Times’ piece.

I still find this frustrating. Stuff is the website of Fairfax’s NZ newspapers and represents many of NZ’s major dailies, while the Herald is the daily newspaper of NZ’s largest city – and a city with a huge Chinese population. This government seems to have sent an awful lot of ministers and officials to China this year. Well, this year is the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between NZ and the PRC, as every one of the Chinese articles about visiting NZ officials reminds us. But this government also seems pretty keen to continue building the relationship with China, including attracting more Chinese investment in NZ. Given the recent kerfuffles over attempted Chinese investment in NZ farmland, I would’ve thought the NZ public would want to know what its government ministers are up to in China. So why, yet again, such a lack of coverage on websites representing NZ’s largest, most important newspapers?

There may be a clue in this comment on this thread (which, in the grand PAS tradition, covers a variety of topics, including the legalities of NZ citizens, those ordinarily resident in NZ, and visitors to NZ making nuclear bombs, among other things), specifically:

Then there’s the very real added problem of producers/editors towing the populist line and telling their journalists the public wants gaga, one direction or whatever other crap over business, finance or other subjects with meat.

Well, forgive me, but the reemergence of Winston Peters and his old populist racist ranting and all the fuss made over Shanghai Pengxin’s purchase of the Crafar farms suggests to me that perhaps the producers/editors may need to rethink what the public wants.

But let me go back to that article on Collins meeting Zhao Yang of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, because that one was actually quite interesting. Firstly, it drops the usual template of introduction, long paragraph or two in which the Chinese official recites the usual political blether, shorter paragraph or perhaps two in which the foreign official recites the usual polite, meaningless words (to steal a phrase from Yeats and use it way out of context), then perhaps a few extra scraps of information and a conclusion. No, this one starts with Collins and actually makes her meeting with Zhao sound interesting. For example:

“新西兰约4%的人口是华人,我的丈夫就有中国血统。”柯林斯笑着说,在她看来,华侨华人在新西兰的生活状态与自己息息相关,可谓是感同身受。

赵阳对这位“中国的亲戚”的来访表示十分欢迎

“Around 4% of New Zealand’s population is Chinese, and my husband has Chinese blood,” Collins said with a smile. In her view, the living conditions of New Zealand’s ethnic and overseas Chinese are closely connected with her own, it could be said she identifies with them.

Zhao Yang told this “family member of China” he completely welcomed her visit.

[Translation help most welcome, especially with Collins’ statements]

Now, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Chinese news article getting in any way personal about government officials. The pictures painted of officials are usually so staid and stodgy, like a cardboard cut out in a single shade of grey. But here we have just a tiny touch of colour and personality. It makes a nice change. Especially considering the “Crusher Collins” image the NZ media prefers.

赵阳坦言,中国非常欢迎新西兰以及世界各地的企业家到中国来投资发展,也希望中国的一些优秀企业能够通过侨胞牵线去海外发展。此外,他还呼吁新西兰的华侨华人为中新友好关系充当桥梁和纽带。

Zhao Yang said frankly that China greatly welcomes entrepreneurs from New Zealand and the world to come to China to invest and develop, and hopes some outstanding Chinese enterprises can use overseas compatriots as a bridge to go overseas and develop. Also, he called for New Zealand ethnic and overseas Chinese to act as a bridge and a link in Sino-New Zealand friendly relations.

The Chinese are coming! Quick, somebody call Winston!

There’s also a lot of talk about cultural exchange, including Collins’ commenting on the number of her Chinese friends who send their children who grew up abroad back to China to learn Chinese culture, leading Zhao to introduce his office’s efforts to spread education in Chinese culture and that cultural exchange is a two way street, and:

他深知中外文化都有很优秀的地方,两者相互交流、相互融合是十分必要的,中新两国政府应该共同努力,加强文化方面的合作交流。

He is fully aware that Chinese and foreign cultures all have their greatnesses, and communication and fusion of the two is absolutely essential. The Chinese and New Zealand governments should work hard together to strengthen cooperation and communication on the cultural front.

Yes, he does seem to set up ‘China’ and ‘foreign’ as a binary. It’s an attitude I find extremely frustrating, and something I do my best to stamp out in my students and family, but whatever, his basic point is pretty sound. Cultural exchange is fundamentally good (not to mention perhaps the only constant in human history), and a fusion of all the world’s cultures get right could be a beautiful thing.

The final paragraph offers up a few stats I found interesting:

新西兰2010年人口普查有关资料显示,新西兰的华侨华人总数已达15万人,在新西兰少数民族中名列第三,其中80%聚居在新西兰最大港口城市奥克兰,其余居住在首都惠灵顿、南岛的基督城和其他中小城镇。

Material from New Zealand’s 2010 census shows that there is already a total of 150,000 ethnic and overseas Chinese in New Zealand, making them New Zealand’s third largest ethnic minority. 80% of them live in New Zealand’s largest port city, Auckland, with the remainder living in the capital, Wellington, the South Island’s Christchurch and other small and mid-sized towns.

It’s mildly amusing that the author seems to be listing two of NZ’s larger urban areas among ‘small and mid-sized towns’, although from a Chinese point of view, they certainly are small, and I doubt the author intended to imply that they’re small or mid-sized anyway. It’s also interesting that the commonly used Chinese name for Christchurch, “基督城” (“Christ City”) was used instead of the apparently more official transliteration “克赖斯特彻奇” (kèlàisītèchèqí) that the media seemed to prefer in the aftermath of the Christchurch quakes.

But it’s still frustrating to find out more about the visits of NZ cabinet ministers to China from the Chinese media than from NZ’s English-language media. Perhaps NZ’s Chinese-language media does a better job – that would seem logical – but I’m running out of time and this blog’s prolonged silence has been due to all the end of semester stuff that needs to be done, and is a long way from being finished. So I should stop rambling, get my stuff together, brave the rain, and actually try and do something productive.

criticism? almost

April 22nd, 2012

Geez, even an article attributed to Global Times and headlined “New Zealand government approval of Chinese company’s purchase of farms criticised by opposition parties” can manage only the most painfully tepid attempt at criticism:

中国上海鹏欣集团购买新西兰牧场可谓一波三折。今年1月,新政府首次批准该交易,在新西兰国内引发激烈争议,反对者担心外国投资商进入新西兰会导致新重要的农业用地被屡屡“抢购”。2月,新西兰最高法院驳回交易,要求政府重新考虑。

China’s Shanghai Pengxin Group’s purchase of the New Zealand farms could be said to have been full of twists and turns. In January this year the NZ government approved the purchase the first time, sparking intense controversy in New Zealand. Opponents were worried that foreign investment in New Zealand would lead to important NZ farmland being sold off. In February, the New Zealand Supreme Court overturned the purchase and required the government to reconsider.

  1. Weren’t they far more worried about Chinese investment than foreign investment more generally? I mean, compare with the lukewarm response to James Cameron’s purchase of two Wairarapa farms very soon after the initial approval of Shanghai Pengxin’s bid. Not even Global Times can mention that aspect of the case?
  2. I really don’t know what to make of “屡屡“抢购”” here. It’s not ‘repeatedly’ or ‘time and again’, but the prospect of gradually, inexorably becoming ‘tenants in our own land’ as rich foreigners gobble up all the land. And it’s not the ‘panic buying’ that the dictionary says “抢购” means. No, it’s buying that is causing some Kiwis to panic. Different phenomenon.
  3. Supreme Court? I thought it was the High Court, and every other Chinese article on the subject I’ve seen has said “高等法院”.
  4. Funny how it “集团购买” mis-parses “团购” as one word, “group buying”, rather than parts of two separate words “集团” “group” and “购买” “buy”. Careless or hasty subediting? Or yet another example of how automation is still very, very far from linguistic competence?

Oh well, never mind, the deal is done and dusted…

 

an end to the saga?

April 21st, 2012

Could it be? Has the Shanghai Pengxin/Crafar Farms saga finally come to an end?

Netease has a report so balanced and fair it’s boring reporting the NZ government’s approval of the sale of the Crafar farms to Shanghai Pengxin. No mention of any kerfuffle or controversy. No mention of Michael Fay and his nonsense, nor of the blatantly sinophobic kneejerk of the Greens, nor the populist-spiced-with-xenophobia ranting of Labour or New Zealand First. Simply, the government approved the sale to Shanghai Pengxin and the conditions of the sale.

Then the NZ Herald has a piece by Claire Trevett with what seems to be a rather silly headline. Papers show Crafar pressure. Oh, really? Because it seems to me the only evidence of such pressure offered is:

Mr McCully also provided Mr Williamson with a NZ Trade and Enterprise paper from March which advised the Government China was watching the case with “great interest” and it was affecting Chinese perceptions of the attractiveness of investing in New Zealand.

It said the Chinese Minister of Commerce had raised that point with Trade Minister Tim Groser on a visit to China.

It urged ministers to use high-level engagements with the Chinese to emphasise that New Zealand was open to investment.

Um… so… pressure? Where? It is the job of the Chinese government to, among other things, ensure, so far as possible, that Chinese companies get a fair go overseas. China and New Zealand have a Free Trade Agreement under which both parties made certain promises to each other. It is only natural for China to keep an eye on Chinese investment in New Zealand and ensure that the terms of the FTA are being adhered to and that Chinese companies investing in New Zealand are treated fairly and equally according to New Zealand law and are not susceptible to the whims of politicians and activists. One would hope that Tim Groser made similar noises about the treatment of New Zealand investors in China when he was here – but we wouldn’t know, would we? Because it seems the only people who noticed his visit and that he had anything to say, let alone reported on it, were in the Chinese-language media, and they have different priorities from the NZ media. And the Chinese media have noticed the Shanghai Pengxin/Crafar Farms saga and the controversy it aroused, and they have also noticed that Groser was very welcoming and encouraging of Chinese investment in New Zealand.

I suppose one could counter that foreign investors in China face a fair bit of less than fair or equal treatment or find themselves buffetted by unpredictable political winds, but so what? Rendering New Zealand’s FDI regime unfair, capricious and opaque, especially when it comes to Chinese investment, will not help to improve things in China. Quite the opposite. What goes around comes around. If New Zealand starts screwing around in its trade with China, then Kiwis in China can expect to be screwed around.

The rest of what Trevett reports seems perfectly reasonable to me, so much so that I find myself wondering if she is actually writing about New Zealand politicians. New Zealand does need foreign investment. To attract FDI, potential investors do need to be confident that the FDI regime is fair and transparent.

Then John Armstrong says Maurice Williamson was right to release documents regarding the sale, but again talks about pressure where all I can see is people being reasonable. China needs to ensure Chinese companies get a fair go, New Zealand needs to attract foreign investment.

And not for the first time in this long, drawn-out affair I find myself agreeing with Fran O’Sullivan. New Zealand’s foreign investment regime needs a thorough going over and sorting out. After all, as O’Sullivan writes:

Inside word is that some investors – including Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing, who walked away from a multimillion-dollar bid for Powerco rather than jump through the OIO’s absurd hoops – now view New Zealand as “too hard”.

This is not the kind of reputation such a capital-starved country needs.

Li’s “no-confidence vote” will not surprise any of the Kiwi lawyers, accountants or bankers who have been tearing their hair out trying to explain to overseas investors why New Zealand’s foreign investment regime is now decidedly opaque.

Trying to convince clients to dress up their bids to meet the new OIO test set by Justice Miller’s judgment on the Crafar farms decision has proved difficult. The problem is major business assets on “sensitive land” are also caught by the Miller ruling, not just farmland.

Pity about the weak and silly pun she concludes with, though. But she’s right, the system is broke, and further messed up by Justice Miller, and it clearly needs some serious fixing.

And in other China-New Zealand news: the New Zealand immigration minister Nathan Guy is in Guangzhou visiting Liang Weifa, head of Public Security in Guangdong, and National Party president Peter Goodfellow is also in Guangzhou, but meeting Wang Yang, Guangdong provincial Party secretary. There’s not much remarkable about either article that I can see, the usual happy words about friendship, cooperation, and developing closer relationships. But all of this has me wondering: Could I be seeing the government leading New Zealand in a new direction before ordinary people have gotten on board? People generally fear change, and New Zealand does have a history of anti-Asian and specifically anti-Chinese sentiment, and there was that Cold War, whose clammy legacy still lingers, and perhaps the government is taking things a bit further than a lot of ordinary Kiwis are quite ready for? I dunno, just a thot….