PRC funding in NZ: How the situation has changed

The debate over the extent of influence from the PRC and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in New Zealand, as well as anxieties to do with the nature of the PRC government’s domestic policies, have led to concerns over the role of PRC financing in New Zealand.

What are the current challenges facing New Zealand organisations which receive funding from the PRC to further their work in the cultural and education sectors? 

Where is there consensus?  What are the points of difference?

The Asia Media Centre approached a range of people across local government, universities, community initiatives and organisations that work with, have knowledge of or receive funding from the PRC-related sources to find out their views.

How have relationships and funding with China government sources changed over the years?

Duncan Campbell, New Zealand Contemporary Chinese Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington

"We cannot deny the reality that we are faced presently with an increasingly repressive PRC. Under the circumstances that prevailed until some five years ago, the moral hazards of accepting PRC funding for New Zealand-based programmes and projects were to some extent manageable. This, I believe, is no longer the case."

Rebecca Needham, Director of the Confucius Institute, Victoria University of Wellington

"The Confucius Institute is a partnership between Victoria University Wellington and Xiamen University, with around half of the Institute’s budget funded by Hanban, and the balance from VUW. This funding arrangement has remained more or less the same since it began operating in 2011."

Tze Ming Mok, sociologist, political scientist and writer

“When China first opened up, we had hope 20 years ago. I was very emotionally invested in that. That’s why it’s heart-breaking for me now.

"Ten or 15 years ago it was different in terms of the approach from the Chinese government. We in the Chinese diaspora were travelling to, living and working in China and were very pro-understanding China as a country more. We were not opposed to developing those kind of relationships. The situation in China at the time was a country that seemed to be making very slow moves at opening up its social and political systems in terms of transitioning to a government that was still a one-party state government but it had transfers of power within the party, so it seemed like there was a possibility of more pluralistic voices within the government.

"China was not so explicit at that point about its neo-colonial ambitions in the Asia-Pacific, which it is now very explicit about. It’s very explicit about its intentions geo-politically. The government has gone backwards in terms of really hardening as a one party, one man state. Xi Jinping has set himself up as the new Mao. He has thrown out everything Deng Xiaoping set up to make sure that there was never a new Mao. We’ve got abuses happening on a scale in China that has not been seen since the Cultural Revolution.

"It had a period of opening up, but it’s normal for neo-colonial governments to have ambitions and we have to take every action from the Chinese government as a strategic move. We have to keep our eyes open. It doesn’t mean that community groups are morally bankrupt for accepting funds from the Chinese government because in so many ways there isn’t another choice.”

Justin Lester, Mayor of Wellington

“I’ve only been mayor for two years, so change in the time I’ve been here. When I was deputy mayor we had support from the mayor of Xiamen and the PRC for contribution and willingness to help with the Chinese garden here in Wellington. Another is the Chinese New Year Festival, a long standing event (19 years) celebrated in the capital. It’s grown in popularity. All of Wellington city celebrates Chinese New Year, a wonderful event. It’s one of the staples of the calendar. It’s grown in stature, a good thing. Likewise Diwali, or community events like Eid al-Adha for the Muslim community, a whole range of ethnic community events celebrated.”

David Lee, Wellington City Councillor Southern Ward

"Relationships are about trust and confidence and we’ve had a really good relationship with our sister cities, especially with Xiamen over the last 35 years. We’ve built on beyond the cultural relationship, there’s still much more we can do between the sister cities especially in the economic and trade type areas and business. It is a vital relationship which we should build upon. Our relationship with Xiamen is quite different from any relationship which we have with the [PRC] government. They’re quite distinct entities. [As a city councillor] we have a good diplomatic relationship being the capital [Wellington], so we do host a lot of dignitaries but our true friendship relationship is with our sister cities, predominantly Xiamen, at a more personal level rather than a diplomatic level."

Esther Fung, Secretary, Wellington Chinese Garden Society

“My last contact with sister cities in China was that in spite of the longevity of the project they were still keen to support. We’ve had a faithful friend in the garden bureau from Xiamen Municipal. Right from the start they sent over representatives and even did a model.

“I’ve talked about this garden for over 22 years with three Wellington Mayors. And each one of these visits the support was generous, particularly from Xiamen City.”

- Asia Media Centre