New Zealand's political treatment of Chinese investment in New Zealand "borders on the disgraceful", according to a leading consultant in Shanghai.
Scott Brown, managing partner of RedFern Associates, a consultancy which specialises in helping businesses enter the complex China market and which also acts for Chinese companies, said he knew the old bogey of Chinese investment in New Zealand was being raised in election year.
But Brown, with 15 years of strategic consultancy experience in China, maintained most Chinese companies do not want to buy land in New Zealand - just what comes off it.
"It's not the first time this has been raised but it doesn't make it any more appetising," he said. "It borders on the disgraceful.
"There is a big Swiss company buying up 5 per cent of our pastoral land. Japan and Australia both have invested plenty in New Zealand land and the northern Europeans are buying farms in the South Island.
"But do we hear anything about that? Of course we don't - but we heard plenty about the Crafar farms controversy and that was a tiny deal in comparison. What does that say?"
Chinese investment in housing, particularly in Auckland, has lit some election fuses. Labour is promising a foreign investment review if elected and New Zealand First's Winston Peters has maintained his long-held conviction against foreigners buying New Zealand farm land.
Chinese investment has totalled almost $5 billion, with commercial property developers such as Fu Wah, Haier's purchase of Fisher & Paykel appliances, Agria investment in PGG Wrightson and Chinese dairy companies setting up processing plants in New Zealand.
But that is roughly only 5 per cent of New Zealand's total foreign direct investment (FDI) of just over $100 billion. Brown said few Chinese companies wanted to take that step although some would as the two economies integrated more under the free trade agreement.
"Some Chinese companies are making the decision that New Zealand is a strategic priority. Get over it. It will happen occasionally. We can either kick against it or handle it responsibly and maturely.
"I can tell you that I am talking all the time with some very big players in China and they have done their research. They ask me what the Maori want, they go into the shareholder bases and they shake their heads when they hear the complexities. So the vast majority of them don't want to buy our assets, our land. They want what comes off it. They don't want the political backlash that comes with buying assets. They are just not interested in that, it's too much aggro.
"So if New Zealand can understand that and stop feeling threatened, it will work a lot better for the country. Yes, there will be profits going overseas. But they must see that the Chinese will build facilities, they will grow capacity in New Zealand, they will grow jobs and they will ship their products back to China which will be great for New Zealand's reputation and brand.
"It is so win-win it's not funny - and many Chinese companies cannot believe how misunderstood they are in New Zealand. I have big clients saying that to me often."
Brown said he knew one investor with a typical desire: "He's in the deer velvet market. He has a lot of money to partner with a Kiwi enterprise. He doesn't want to buy land - he wants to buy more deer so more velvet can be produced. The Kiwi guy keeps his land and can set his market price, the investor just wants the rights to what is produced."
That was the sort of deal commonly proposed and was a long way away from the politically motivated scare factor of land-grabbing.
- Paul Lewis is in China courtesy of the Bank of New Zealand.