Know Thy Enemies: China's Nineteenth Century history recommends a thorough process of getting to know exactly who and what you're dealing with. The Celestial Kingdom's disdain for "Foreign Barbarians" did not work out so well. New Zealand offers the Chinese Government a risk-free environment in which to master the idiosyncrasies of the Anglo-Saxon cultures challenged by its rising economic power.
THE PRIME MINISTER has given his recent trip to China a perfect score.
“They have really given us great access, they are totally committed to moving the relationship on, there has been a real opportunity to renew friendships and understandings with the new leadership team and we’ve announced things that will make a difference here.
“I think it’s a 10 out of 10.”
There can be no disputing the value which the People’s Republic places upon its relationship with New Zealand. What we offer our now pivotal trading partner is access to a fully developed, English-speaking, democratic, capitalist society. With our tiny population and strategic irrelevance, China can test and refine here the techniques it must perfect if its increasingly up-close-and-personal interactions with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are to bear diplomatic and commercial fruit.
More bluntly, China has chosen New Zealand as its testing-ground. Mistakes made here can simply be written-off to experience. New Zealand is too small (and too dependent on the Chinese demand for its dairy products) to impose any kind of effective sanctions on the Chinese state.
What we do have, however, is the ability to reveal the pitfalls awaiting China in jurisdictions large enough to inflict serious damage on both its government and economy. Though we may only be its smallest digit, New Zealand remains one of the five fingers of the Anglo-Saxon fist. And if the exponential growth of China’s productive capacity has reduced its economic power, the Anglo-Saxon Fist still packs an unanswerable military punch.
As a policy, pissing-off the Anglo-Saxon’s has not served the Chinese state well in the past, and is most unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future.
And that’s where we come in.
How will the citizens of the Anglo-Saxon states respond to large-scale land purchases by state-owned, or capitalised, Chinese corporations? That is something the big-wigs in Beijing should probably know before allowing their surrogates to buy up half of Herefordshire or Ohio.
And, thanks to New Zealand, they have been given a pretty good idea. Though far greater chunks of the New Zealand landscape had been hocked-off to Americans, Canadians, Indonesians and Israelis, the very idea that even a tiny amount of New Zealand farmland might end up in Chinese hands was enough to bring Kiwis out in a rash.
New Zealand’s bi-partisan commitment to keeping Sino-New Zealand relations harmonious was sufficient to prevent any large-scale political exploitation of that popular antagonism. Even so, China’s rulers had been given a taste of the sort of reaction likely to greet large-scale Chinese land purchases in English-speaking countries containing political classes less constrained by considerations of size and economic dependence. The far-right of the US Republican Party, for example. Or, the frankly xenophobic “backwoodsmen” of the British Conservative Party.
A recent news-story (published in The Sunday Star-Times of 14 April 2013) offers the Beijing authorities another opportunity to test the political and social reactions of Anglo-Saxons to Chinese ideas and aspirations.
Mr Easter Wu, a prominent figure in the New Zealand Chinese business community, has apparently been campaigning for the right to pay immigrant workers less than the statutory minimum wage. In advocating that his compatriots engage in what is a clear breach of New Zealand employment law, Mr Wu confined himself to Chinese-language media outlets.
Now that his comments: “How much you are worth is how much you get. You got an $8 skill, I pay you $8.”, have been translated into English, the response of ordinary New Zealanders is likely to be extremely hostile.
Not only has Mr Wu been using his high media profile in the expatriate Chinese community to suggest that Chinese employers should ignore the laws of the country in which they have been permitted to operate, but he has also, wittingly or unwittingly, raised up the spectre, in the minds of native-born New Zealanders, that Chinese business leaders are conspiring to undermine their wages and conditions. With New Zealand currently experiencing high levels of unemployment, such behaviour has the potential to produce an ugly and diplomatically unhelpful anti-Chinese backlash.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Mr Wu’s campaigning is that China’s diplomatic representatives in New Zealand appear to have made no attempt to rein-in their wayward compatriot. Within the Chinese Embassy there will certainly be officers tasked with the close monitoring of the local Chinese-language news media. It is very puzzling (to say the least) that the Embassy does not appear to have taken Mr Wu aside and warned him about the very serious consequences his campaigning risked unleashing.
Then again, it’s possible this unwillingness to intervene reflects the Chinese Government’s interest in discovering how Anglo-Saxons react to the idea that Chinese employers should be allowed to operate outside the law.
If so, we should let them know.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 16 April 2013.