A Massey University academic who recently returned from studies in China and Taiwan says New Zealand is losing the fight for the hearts and minds of the Chinese consumer.

Associate professor Henry Chung, who specialises in international marketing strategies, says his recent trip to China showed a high level of mistrust in New Zealand.

"There is a sense in China that Huawei has not been treated fairly," Chung says.

As in New Zealand, the concept of fair treatment is important to the Chinese. And the perception New Zealand isn't giving one of its biggest companies a fair go can have a detrimental effect on the willingness of the Chinese to visit New Zealand or buy Kiwi products.

Advertisement

Adding an additional level of mistrust is the growing awareness of the Five Eyes security alliance, whereby New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK, and US share intelligence information.

"On this trip, it was the first time I'd heard of people in China talking about the Five Eyes alliance," Chung says.

Chung says reports about the Five Eyes have steadily made their way into the media, sowing seeds of mistrust among Chinese citizens who see those countries as conspiring against them.

This "us versus them" dynamic has also spilled onto Chinese social media, where a growing number of Chinese are expressing disappointment in how other governments - New Zealand among them - are treating China.

This, says Chung, marks a major shift from the previous perception of New Zealand.

"The Chinese people now feel as though they aren't welcome in New Zealand," the professor says, adding this sentiment could have a negative impact on tourism.

Asked by the Herald for comment on Chinese tourists not feeling welcome, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said such claims were being "overhyped" and the Government was not worried about tourism taking a hit.

Still, Chung says New Zealand needs to find a way to win back the trust of the Chinese people if it wants to keep their business, but doing this is complicated in a nation with state-controlled media.

"There's nothing you can do about the state media," says Chung, admitting the narratives published in state-owned publications are influenced by the government.

Advertisement

"But you do have social media, which is very powerful in China."

Chung points to the efforts of Taiwanese mayor Han Guo-Yu as an example of someone who was able to use the power of social media to shift perceptions in the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung.

Running without any part or state support, Han was able to win the Kaohsiung mayorship in November last year on the back of social media support.

Chung believes if the New Zealand Government is interested in improving the perceptions of our nation in China, officials will need to meet with influential individuals like Han and get them on side.

This will, in turn, give New Zealand a chance to show Chinese consumers they are welcome and that high-level politics aren't indicative of New Zealand's feelings toward China.

"You need to find a way to tell them that you want to do business with everyone around the world."