PRC funding in NZ: Do we need money from China?

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.

Would it be possible to create China-related projects without PRC support?

Stephen Noakes, Senior Lecturer, Politics and International Relations, University of Auckland

"I do believe there is now more appetite within New Zealand for the domestic funding of engagement activities. Of course, the classic New Zealand problem of scale must be considered. There will never be the amounts of money available for such activities here that there are in New Zealand's 'Five Eyes' peers (I'm thinking specifically of the Rudd government in Australia and its funding for China programmes at Australian National University), because of New Zealand's small size. Still, for a country of less than five million people, I think New Zealand has done a good job of sourcing/giving cash to China-knowledge initiatives."

David Lee, Wellington City Councillor Southern Ward

"We could source more funding from within New Zealand. There's a very large poll tax community, some who aren't even aware of this project (over 25,000 New Zealanders) — so there's a good opportunity to reach out to that community and the wider community. But it's also funding from our sister cities — not funding from China — but receiving funding from our sister cities. It builds on our friendship with our sister cities.

"It's also very symbolic to receive materials, people power and skills in exchange with our sister city Xiamen. It builds this relationship between the two parties."

Tze Ming Mok, sociologist, political scientist and writer 

"There isn't an alternative source of funding. It is up to our government and our civil society to encourage our government to put more funds and support into our Chinese communities because often the alternative is relying on a horrifically oppressive government, which although it seems to be supporting minority rights in New Zealand, is destroying all cultural minorities in China. China's policy is to completely break and destroy the culture and language of entire minority groups in China. The 'Hanban policy' is talking about making them nationalistically 'Chinese' — and making them 'Han'. It's a Sino-cisation policy.

"As minorities in New Zealand, we are trying to maintain our culture, language and traditions as a pathway to our right to self-determination and as a resistance to the colonial settler culture in this country. It's a philosophical conundrum to groups who are genuinely trying to do this work, when we take so much support from a government that doesn't afford ethnic minorities their rights in that country. It's a betrayal of minority ethnic human rights the world over. Essentially, we don't have a choice about being complicit in the suppression because there aren't alternative sources of funding."

Linda Lim, Asian Events Trust, Chinese New Year Festival, Wellington

"A huge part of our festival would be cut off. If we didn't have that [China Culture Centre] funding source it would be a much smaller festival, not as comprehensive. The public have come to expect international performing groups. Tutors, costumes, props all come from China. I suspect you'd lose a lot of that.

"Our festival is a festival that is very inclusive. It's a partnership that we entered with the China Culture Centre to work on the same festival. We have access to their performers, they co-ordinate the timing of when they bring performers over. We work with them to include those performers to be part of our programme. It makes a key difference, it works for us. It means navigating through extra challenges."

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

"Our Mandarin Language Assistants are young Chinese graduates, selected from some of China’s top universities.  In 2018, the Institute placed 58 MLAs in around 140 schools between Wellington and Tauranga. This teaching support is highly valued by schools. We estimate they were involved in Chinese language teaching to about 20,000 New Zealand students. In 2019, we will have fewer MLAs, due to New Zealand visa quota issues, but we have committed to maintaining a presence in all of the approximately 140 schools who have re-applied for MLA support. Such a programme would not be possible without Hanban support. Of course we would be delighted to see more New Zealand government support for the teaching of second languages in New Zealand schools, and in general improving the overall Asian language and cultural competencies of young New Zealanders."

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

"Having spent more than 30 years teaching aspects of China’s language, history, and culture, sadly I am increasingly of the belief that circumstances presently in the PRC (particularly with respect to the repression of religion generally, and the Muslims of Xinjiang especially) are such that all sources of PRC funding need to be questioned, at the very time that the cultural and linguistic challenges posed us as New Zealanders by the geopolitical shifts are more pressing than ever before. We can no longer outsource to the party-state in Beijing and its local representatives responsibility for equipping young New Zealanders with the skills and knowledge that they will require to maintain agency over their own futures."

Justin Lester, Mayor of Wellington

"The Chinese New Year Festival wouldn't go as far. Some festivals are larger, some are smaller reflecting ethnic traditions or calendar events of that culture. The ones that are larger are better funded, and that will be through direct funding from their own government as well. But if we get support from a home government or a foreign partner then it means we can provide a better experience. There are dozens of ethnic community events that take place in Wellington and a handful at city-wide scale. Chinese New Year has grown significantly over time because there's strong support with alternative funding sources.

"There are no plans to cut out support from alternative funding sources like China. It's the same for American events, too. We get support for CubaDupa from the American government, they contribute through their embassy to bring out artists and bands from New Orleans or New York to play in Wellington and it's warmly received."

Esther Fung, Secretary, Wellington Chinese Garden Society

"It's already sourced from within New Zealand. There's an element of funding that must come from within New Zealand, the New Zealand Chinese community, and the wider community, because this [garden] embraces the wider community. The Poll Tax Trust supports, we have funding from community groups. We have a lot of good will from the wider community."

- Asia Media Centre