Equal footing for Chinese companies in New Zealand is desired: Consul General Jin Zhijian in Christchurch
- the diplomat opens up on several issues concerning the Chinese community here and stresses "we hope that the Chinese companies and investors could get the equal treatment as other foreign partners get in New Zealand"
Can you give a brief overview of the relations between China and New Zealand?
Consul General: China and New Zealand established diplomatic ties in the year 1972 so next year will be the year we celebrate the 45th anniversary of this relationship. We are so glad to take notice that the relationship has been developing very steady and healthy. In the past few years we have witnessed very impressive growth in terms of the bilateral contacts and operations between our two countries.
Particularly in the year 2014, we had the state visit by our President to New Zealand, during which the two countries decided to develop the relationship as comprehensive and strategic partnership. And this relationship has brought benefits to both sides.
I could share with you some of the key figures if you like. For example China is now the largest source of foreign students to New Zealand. We have as many as 60,000 young Chinese people studying in New Zealand. China became the largest trading partner of New Zealand three years ago. And of course China is the second largest source of foreign visitors to New Zealand. All this is an indicator of the closeness of the relationship between our two countries.
Have things improved after the Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2008?
Consul General: Yes, I think the FTA agreement has given a big push to this relationship since the year 2008. Actually because of this agreement both sides have benefited tremendously. Especially New Zealand side because of the amount of bilateral trade between our countries. The average growth rate of trade between China and New Zealand is much bigger than the average rate of trade relationship between New Zealand and other countries. That shows the function and benefits of this agreement.
And that was the first time China did a trade agreement with any country in the western world. Is this indicative of the importance China places on New Zealand?
Consul General: Yes, you’re absolutely right. New Zealand is the first country recognising the market economy status of China. And also this FTA agreement between our two countries is the first one done between China and a developed country. It also shows the importance and maturity of this relationship.
But there must be some challenges in this relationship as well?
Consul General: I’d rather say that there are more opportunities than challenges as these two countries already have a very sound basis for enhancement of bilateral ties.
And we have many opportunities. For example Chinese Government introduced the 'One Belt, One Road' initiative and New Zealand is the natural extension of the maritime silk road. And there are lot of opportunities to be explored by both sides to further enhance our bilateral relationship.
But of course New Zealand is a country far away from China with a different social system. It doesn’t mean we could see eye to eye on all the issues. For example how the New Zealand Government tackles the One China policy. Probably deal with issues related to Taiwan and how we settle dispute in the South China Sea.
All these issues – you can call them challenges, I could say that they are problems faced by our two governments. We need to handle these problems properly in order to make sure that these issues don't impact our sound relationship.
So are both sides working to resolve them?
Consul General: Absolutely. Whenever something comes up, the two governments are responding very timely and trying to find ways to settle those issues.
Now let's come to your office in Christchurch. What services do you provide here?
Consul General: Our consulate is the second Chinese consulate general office opened in New Zealand. The first one was set-up in Auckland. And this consulate office opened by the end of 2011 so actually we have just celebrated our 5th anniversary.
We have 15 staff working in this consulate and each of them has their own responsibility. And of course the reason we opened the consulate is based on several key reasons.
For example we have a very large Chinese community living in Christchurch and living in South Island. We have the responsibility to take care of their interests. We also have a lot of Chinese students studying here. We need to offer our assistance whenever needed.
And of course, lots of our Kiwi friends and local Chinese people who have got the citizenship of New Zealand; if they want to go to China and they want to have their visas done so the consulate is also responsible for issuing visas and other kinds of documentations.
We also have consuls responsible for business and trade issues, cultural and commercial exchanges, and educational initiatives.
Finally, we also have a section responsible for our press issues, media contacts etc.
In all, we are the representatives of the Chinese government here in New Zealand's South Island.
Chinese have a long history of making New Zealand their home, starting from the days of the gold rush of 1800s. You have been here for almost two years now. And you keep interacting with the local Chinese community here. What do they tell you about their experiences here? Does Chinese people suffer overt or covert form of racism in New Zealand?
Consul General: As you mentioned the first wave of Chinese coming to New Zealand actually happened in the year 1860s when they came here as gold miners. As we all know the Chinese migrants were not fairly treated during that period of time.
Since I came here I have had a lot of contact with the local Chinese people and have attended many functions.
I’ll be frank with you, personally I haven’t heard complaints about the treatment from the New Zealand side.
I think the Chinese community as part of the ethnic minority groups in Christchurch, most of them behave well. They abide by local rules and laws and they have made great contributions to the local economic growth, economic development, and also to the well being of the local community.
Of course you can say that sometimes people do have some unpleasant encounters.
I think that is also true and you could imagine, for example, during the weekends late in the evenings if some local people had few drinks and you might encounter some unpleasant treatment.
But I do not want to use the word racism. I don't think they belong to that sort of category. I think most are cases where people just think that since you come from a different country, you might not behave as the Kiwis.
It’s a sort of misconception.
But It’s not a widespread problem. Just one or two cases. Not a big issue!
So do you think there's a perception problem here? Some kind of prejudice that Chinese companies or people in general face when they come to New Zealand?
Consul General: I do not want to comment on precise projects but I do want to stress that we hope that the Chinese companies and investors could get the equal treatment as other foreign partners get in New Zealand.
"...New Zealand companies such as Fonterra and several others have made the investment continuously in China and have made good profits..."
I could also share with you that along with the fast growth of the bilateral trade relationship more and more Chinese entrepreneurs and investors have shown interest in coming here to New Zealand to find opportunities for their business development. This is mutually beneficial arrangement.
I’m so glad to see that in the past few years we have seen some successful examples that with the help of Chinese investment here in New Zealand, the localeconomy, the local companies have entered new area of development.
As we all know that if we talk about the purchasing of farmlands by foreign companies, China is not number one.
And also, I want to say that when we look at the whole picture of bilateral investment, the New Zealand companies such as Fonterra and several others have made the investment continuously in China and have made good profits.
At the same time there has been a steady increase of investment from China here in New Zealand. According to the figure released by the New Zealand Government, by the end of March this year, the total volume of investment coming from Chinese mainland and Hong Kong amounts to 14 billion New Zealand dollars making China the fourth largest country in terms of volume of investment among the foreign countries.
I think that’s a good signal to show that, generally speaking, the investment form both sides in opposite countries has developed steadily.
Just to be clear on this. You are saying that you want Chinese companies coming to New Zealand should be treated equally to companies from other foreign countries?
Consul General: Yes, equal footing for everyone.
There have been some physical attacks on the Chinese community, especially against students in Auckland. The gravity of the situation was so grave that none other than former Prime Minister John Key wrote an open letter in the ethnic media assuring the community of his Government's commitment on the issue. Do you think the Chinese community face a similar problem in South Island, or in Christchurch? Especially in the context of spike in dairy robberies.
Consul General: I personally read some reports in local publications and newspapers and TV stations about the robberies, and as you mentioned some of the owners of those dairies are overseas Chinese.
"....we’re very concerned about these incidents [physical attacks on some members of the Chinese community] and we want to see those cases dealt with promptly by the New Zealand Government organizations..."
Of course we’re very concerned about these incidents and we want to see those cases dealt with promptly by the New Zealand Government organizations.
Personally I’ve shared my view with the local police to see what can we do together or to prevent these things from happening.
I think the robbery figures from the local police shows that it has increased somewhat, and we as officials representing the Chinese government, want to see the properties and the securities of those overseas Chinese could be properly protected by the New Zealand government.
It’s our wish to see those things solved quickly and hopefully no such instance would happen again.
Regarding the law and order issue like some Chinese overseas students attacked by the local people - not only in Auckland but also in South Island - we do encounter one or two cases like this.
Whenever these things happen, the Chinese Consulate is in the position to offer assistance and also try out best to gather information across to relevant department here in Christchurch or elsewhere in South Island, and let them to take some measures to solve the issue.
It’s not a very prominent issue but its my wish to see this properly settled.
Final question is about the altercations we have seen between the locals and Chinese tourists in recent years during the tourist season. With summer already in full swing, what measures have you taken to deal with the issue? Is this also a perception problem?
Consul General: I think that’s a communication issue.
Of course, its in everyone’s interests to see more Chinese visitors coming to New Zealand and the New Zealand government has made it very clear that they welcome all foreign visitors including Chinese visitors.
Also in the past few years we have seen a very impressive growth of the number of Chinese visitors coming to New Zealand. This year and the years to come will witness the same momentum.
But as you know that we have different traffic regulations in China and here in New Zealand. So some Chinese visitors might encounter some difficulties in getting used to the road conditions and traffic conditions here in New Zealand. But once they are here, they get the cars rented, and get on the road.
I think it’s the responsibility of both the Chinese side and New Zealand side to share some important information well in advance to those Chinese visitors. And its being done already for the past few years.
We, at the Chinese consulate here, publish a very impressive brochure containing all the important and necessary information regarding the road conditions and traffic rules here in South Island. It is in Chinese and we have this publication distributed with the help of local car rental companies. So that when the Chinese visitors come, rent the cars, they could get one copy of this.
And also my colleagues in Auckland and Wellington, they have taken various measures to cooperate with the New Zealand sides.
I also know that the New Zealand government has done something very similar in their visa offices based in China. Because of this hard effort in the past few years I think we have witnessed some improvements. This year in-spite of we witnessing impressive growth of number of visitors from China, we have in fact witnessed a decline in the number of accidents in which Chinese drivers are involved.
I think that's the result of hard efforts from both sides.
Regarding the interactions between the Chinese visitors and local people, PM John Key has made it very clear that foreign drivers, including those from China, are not the major cause of accident on New Zealand roads. This statement could be easily supported by the figures from local transportation organisations.
In general, Chinese visitors are well received by the local people. And I think this will continue in the upcoming tourist season.
Who actually invests in New Zealand?
KPMG has analysed trends in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from 2013 to 2015, based on Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approvals for the past three years. Key findings on the analysis include:
- The United States and Canada were New Zealand’s most significant source of FDI over the last three years, based on gross consideration data provided by the OIO; followed closely by the Australia, China and Singapore.
- Singapore accounted for 20% of FDI in 2015, measured by gross consideration, making Singapore the largest source of FDI in 2015.
- The United States is the largest acquirer of land for the 2013 to 2015 period (40%), followed by China (11%) and Hong Kong (7%). Forestry transactions are the most significant driver behind this statistic.
- Canterbury, Otago and Southland account for 49% of freehold land transactions consented to under the Overseas Investment Act 2005.
- Over the short run, New Zealand’s FDI statistics are heavily influenced by a few large transactions. The largest 10 transactions over the three year period accounted for 33% of the disclosed total overseas investment. Asia accounted for over half of the largest 10 transactions.
- above stats are courtesy KPMG. For more details, refer to the firm's report titled, "Foreign Direct Investment in New Zealand: Trends and Insights into OIO decision summaries"