Heather Shotter is executive director of the Committee for Auckland

Chinese New Year celebrations are in full flow. For Auckland, this is a wonderful time of family, food and fortune - and it is also a moment of strategic significance.

Auckland is the most Chinese city in New Zealand, with one in 12 of us also identifying as Chinese. It is the preferred destination for most Chinese migrants and tourists.

About a quarter of all tourist dollars spent in the Auckland tourist industry is spent by Chinese. More visitors travel to China from Auckland than any other region.


New Zealand's relationship with China is booming, Auckland is at the centre of it and fostering and furthering this local/global relationship grows more important for New Zealand every day.

New Zealand's trade with China has nearly tripled over the past decade. It is New Zealand's largest trading partner, our largest source country of permanent migrants, our largest source of international students, our second-biggest source of tourists and, of course, the biggest importer of New Zealand dairy products.

China is growing significantly and becoming a major and important investor in New Zealand, a critical support in developing and future-proofing Auckland's creaking infrastructure.

China also provides a growing market for our mostly Auckland-based financial and business services.

Auckland has the networks to support the economic and social interaction between the countries, so economically and culturally, deepening and expanding New Zealand's international city's relationship with China is vitally important.

How well are we doing in our China relationship as we enter the Year of the Rooster?

In late 2016, the Committee for Auckland released a report on the Auckland-China Relationship, which examined Auckland's position as an attractive destination for Chinese interests.

The short answer is "not bad but must try harder and with a more joined-up approach".


The report says: exports to China remain concentrated in low-value commodity sectors; Auckland does not control the most effective levers to attract foreign direct investment; Auckland needs to stand out as a tourist destination; and education could do with a co-ordinated marketing strategy (international students generate almost half a billion dollars annually for Auckland in tuition fees alone, and for every dollar a Chinese student spends on tuition, he or she spends $2 more).

The cultural findings in the China Report are particularly resonant as we celebrate and feel good in the moment of Chinese New Year.

The "feel-good" question is how welcome, safe and appreciated do our city's highly skilled migrants feel?

Sustainable city growth depends on attracting and retaining talent and China is one of our main sources of skilled migrants.

For every dollar a Chinese student spends on tuition, he or she spends $2 more.

The report found many New Zealanders still have negative perceptions about the effect of Chinese migration and Chinese immigrants have a poor perception of safety in Auckland.

There is a xenophobic perception that Chinese are "taking over" suburbs and yet migrants have difficulty finding work and trouble integrating with English-speaking New Zealanders.

Our perceptions of the effect migrants have on such issues as housing prices and jobs are ill-founded. The just-released New Zealand Initiative study The New New Zealanders, Why Migrants Make Good Kiwis is a case in point.

Aucklanders need more familiarisation with the facts on migration and diversity. Kiwi understanding of Chinese culture is poor and must go beyond the moment of Chinese New Year.

"Mainstream Auckland" is a city of immigrants who need a smoother transition and easier integration.

Overall - in all the areas of trade, investment, tourism, education and migration - Auckland needs to work harder and closer to build a two-way, long-term New Zealand-China relationship.

Steps have been taken but we quickly need a co-ordinated Auckland-China strategy, with key stakeholders and decision-makers aligned on agreed targets.

Otherwise, the city's future building blocks - trade and talent and tourism - will flow strongest in other city directions.

Overseas, regions such as New South Wales and Victoria in Australia already have engagement strategies and they are forging a relationship with China and its people.

A prosperous New Zealand depends on a strong and happy Auckland-Chinese profile.

Auckland, let's get serious on taking our pivotal relationship to a new level.