Mostly, the constant patter of emails into my ‘editor’ email from National Party circles is about appointments: diplomatic, government and quasi private.
Policy, almost never, even when the Opposition parties (far more prolific with policy at the best of times) are in full cry about child poverty or immigration allocations or water woes.
Such issues tend to lapse for want of any push-back from the Government, which has its own agenda and isn’t about to stick its neck out for public scrutiny.
On Monday – entwined with the painful revelations about the impossibly tangled war in Afghanistan that were up for public debate – my inbox had an odd and very noticeable spate of issues involving China.
No less than eight in one hour-long tranche.
It was all hands to the pump: From Nicky Wagner – “Arrangement to boost China-NZ trade”, from Paul Goldsmith – “Strengthened links with Chinese schools to be formed”, Murray McCully – “McCully welcomes cooperation with China on Pacific fisheries”, Nathan Guy and Todd McLay – “Valuable chilled meat agreement with China”, Michael Woodhouse and Nicky Wagner – “New measures to facilitate Chinese travel”, Simon Bridges – “Enhanced air services with China”, Paula Bennett – “2019 to be China-New Zealand Year of Tourism”, Paula Bennett (again) – “Climate action plan with China” and Bill English – “China FTA upgrade talks to begin next month”. Nikki Kaye followed up a day later with: “Support for NZ China Young Leaders Forum 2017”.
By then, the NZ Herald had come out with a China Business section in which Fran O’Sullivan pointed out that China is poised to overtake the United States as the second-largest source of foreign direct investment in New Zealand.
Its front page headline questions whether New Zealand is effectively leveraging its growing investment ties when it comes to the murky world of international trade deals and “trust me” politicians.
By the time you’ve trawled through this special section, you’ve been educated on Auckland’s transition to a proposed planetary “internationalised capital”, China’s growing primary industry footprint here and exhorted to “get with the programme” that China pulled us through the Global Financial Crisis.
Cathy Quinn, who leads the mergers and acquisitions and private equity teams of MinterEllisonRuddWatts and is the principal author of the firm’s White Paper on Corporate Governance, sternly warns New Zealanders to welcome Chinese tourists and asks them to understand what it’s like to be a foreigner in a foreign country, call out racism, require schools to offer students Mandarin and demand more of our politicians when and if they resort to cheap politics based on race.
Buried in its 28 pages, the supplement also runs a story about the likelihood of all this bonanza coming to nothing in the real world, given China’s capital outflow restrictions (due to start about now).
Deep on page 12, David Parker, Labour’s trade spokesperson, is left to mention that the original 2008 Free Trade Agreement with China was put together by Labour (which may be due some credit for getting us through the GFC anyway) and that the upgrade now being proposed must restore and protect the agreement’s existing right of a future Government to ban the sale of New Zealand homes to overseas buyers (a clause that has not been triggered by the National government since).
China can hardly demand otherwise, since it has itself banned non-residents from buying houses in main cities.
David Parker also warned we should address the non-tariff barrier allegations that have shown up since 2008: dumping of cheap Chinese steel, difficulties with kiwifruit exports and barriers to companies exporting infant food if they did not include Chinese investment.
Compared with Australia, we’ve been rather the opposite of xenophobic as China has reached its present level of investment here in the last eight years.
The loss of iconic appliance company Fisher and Paykel and agri-business Wrightson and all its intellectual property, along with concerns over farm and home purchases, have given us pause and dismay but have generally been steamrolled by political expediency, no matter what sort of mug’s game the deal looked like into the future.
By now, it has to be obvious on the planet that big business and global money doesn’t do charity. If it wants to invest in infrastructure, it intends to make a healthy return. There is no free lunch and looking gift horses in the mouth is plain common sense, especially if you’re the little guy.
Unfortunately, by the time you’ve read the NZ Herald’s China supplement, you’re going to be feeling way too much like the little guy. • Liz Waters
Post-script: Talks to upgrade our 2008 trade deal with China are due to begin on 25 April after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Bill English agreed this week to start work on it.