Garth George: NZ at mercy of hungry Chinese dragon

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Our relationship with China, heralded as our economic saviour, is fraught with risks. Photo / Getty Images
Our relationship with China, heralded as our economic saviour, is fraught with risks. Photo / Getty Images

The thousands of words and hundreds of column centimetres this newspaper is this week devoting to a series entitled "China and Us" has done nothing so far but fill me with a deep sense of unease.

And I'm obviously not alone. In a nzherald.co.nz poll at the weekend asking, "is the increasing Chinese influence in New Zealand a positive thing?" of the nearly 11,000 readers who replied only 33 per cent said "yes" and 67 per cent said "no".

These nay-sayers will be, like me, folk who understand that "multiculturalism" is a bullshit word because there is no such thing.

Folk who are increasingly concerned at China's economic and migratory imperialism know that there is a fundamental truth in Kipling's immortal words: "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."

What bugs me about most of the palaver I have skimmed so far is that it's all so bloody mercenary.

I get the impression that China is our economic saviour and our relationship with that huge and densely populated communist nation is all good.

I read nothing of the fact that China is a totalitarian state which clings resolutely to Mao Zedong's version of Marxism-Leninism.

I read nothing of the fact that the multimillion-man People's Liberation Army, with its huge naval and air arms, owns and controls a significant proportion of China's industry and commerce.

I read nothing of the absence of human rights, as we understand them, in China and of the hierarchy's brutal suppression of any dissent. Yet we have seen evidence of that here in New Zealand during various visits by uppity Chinese mandarins.

I read nothing of the country's one-child edict, by which millions of girl children are aborted each year because everyone wants a son and which has already led to a vast and widening male-female disparity.

I read nothing of the fact that graft, corruption and bribery are endemic to Chinese politics, its military, business and commerce and that the acquisition of money, property and prestige is the overweening concern of its citizens.

I read nothing of the fact that the Chinese currency is rigidly controlled, to the benefit only of China, and that it is still undervalued in spite of being somewhat freed up in the middle of last year.

What increases my sense of unease is the story in this newspaper on Monday recording that Pacific Island nations have become indebted to China to the tune of some $800 million in what is described as a "secretive aid programme".

Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga have all accepted multimillion-dollar "soft" loans for "infrastructure" purposes and experts believe that they will never be able to pay the money back. There's something sinister about that, even in the suggestion that China might "forgive" many of those loans.

If that's the case, the question has to be asked - what's in it for China?

Meanwhile, we are informed that 82 per cent of the country's clothing imports, 72 per cent of imported footwear, 58 per cent of toys and sports goods and 52 per cent of imported furniture come from China.

And, infinitely sadder, that buyers who stock the big retail chains say New Zealand production has almost disappeared. In fact, The Warehouse chain's sustainability manager, Trevor Johnston, predicts that the increase in imports from China "is going to change the face of New Zealand in a way people don't recognise right now".

"We are looking at deeper and deeper integration with their economy," he said. "I think the real change is going to come through immigration and investment and deeper economic integration, not only on the importing side but in Chinese capital taking root here. And, culturally, there will be more Mandarin speakers. Chinese culture will be much more visible."

It's all very well to say that this is just a businessman talking but the real problem is that New Zealand is now being run almost entirely as a business, with the emphasis always on "wealth creation" although we all know that wealth will end up in the hands of a few and the gap between rich and poor will continue to increase.

Elsewhere, the "China and Us" series makes this brief comment: "Arguably, despite the loss of jobs in formerly protected industries, these cheap Chinese imports have made us all better off - at least in the short term."

How sad that the loss of indigenous industries, some of them iconic, which have been forced out of the market or have moved their production to China or elsewhere in Asia, with the loss of hundreds of thousands of Kiwi jobs, can be dismissed so cavalierly.

It is time our politicians and business leaders had a cup of tea and took a really long-term look at our relationship with this ancient Asian monstrosity.

The headline on one of Saturday's articles was "The kiwi and the dragon". It might pay to remember that a kiwi would make a very small, but very tasty, meal for a hungry dragon.

- NZ Herald

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