PRC funding in NZ: The value of China-related projects

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.

Why are China-related projects important in New Zealand? What changes need to be made going forward?

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

"Many of the cultural projects undertaken in the past by PRC-funded agencies or organisations have been entirely admirable in both their purpose and their realisation. Such projects are a vital component of answering the challenges that our changing circumstances present. But the long-term effectiveness of such projects will be fatally undermined and distorted by association with PRC funding under present circumstances."

David Lee, Wellington City Councillor Southern Ward

"It's important for the New Zealand Chinese community to tell its story and add a chapter to the New Zealand story and give encouragement to other migrant communities to tell their stories. We already have European designs and a race track, and then Māori stories with the Wharewaka. The Pasifika community also want to share their story. It needs to be inclusive. Iwi did the hardest part by being the pioneer, we are the first follower. It opens it up for other groups to say, 'What about our contribution?'"

Esther Fung, Secretary, Wellington Chinese Garden Society

"I think that New Zealand may be isolated, but we are totally dependent on our exchange with the rest of the world. By acknowledging who we are, we also accept we are part of the world. We're no longer isolated in the South Pacific."

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

"The importance of such funding and programming is tied to the economic realities of New Zealand, and the changing face of New Zealand itself. My hope is that trade relations will drive a broadening of horizons so that New Zealanders can be made more aware of the world beyond the Anglosphere, Chinese New Zealanders can feel better recognised and accommodated in our multicultural community, and so that free and frank conversations can be had about the benefits and risks of deepening engagement with China. There is a pressing need to move beyond Cold War era thinking and knee-jerk emotions to a rising China."

Tze Ming Mok, sociologist, political scientist and writer

"Regarding the sister city programmes being grass roots and people-to-people relationships, there's genuine people trying to establish genuine relations but every government institution in China, whether it's local, regional, national is entirely controlled by one political party and that is the Communist Party of China. It is just one system, one line of authority. We can't keep our eyes closed to these facts.

"Local governments are a key focus on the PRC government's United Front policy, a policy of overseas influence campaigns. As national governments become more aware of the strategic interests of the Chinese government — when lines of influence are being resisted — for example, some countries in the Asia-Pacific are realising a lot of the Belt and Road Initiatives that the Chinese government is promoting are not in the national interests of small Pacific nations. They are trying to front up to these large infrastructure projects that put people at debts and puts these governments at risk. We see this happening throughout the Asia-Pacific. They hook a country into a massive infrastructure project, the country goes into debt and then China seizes a crucial strategic national asset. They are going for the jugular. This is why regional relationships are very popular. To say that sister city programmes are not led by China's government are a mistaken view.

"It doesn't mean that these local connections and work are not genuine but we have to be aware of limitations, we have to expect that they are targets for specific interests directed by China's government."

- Asia Media Centre