NZ-Chinese community reacts to the election

For many Chinese immigrants, voting in a general election is something they have never experienced before coming to New Zealand. Not everyone in these communities is interested in New Zealand politics, but more and more people now have a greater interest in talking about New Zealand’s democracy on social media, and their opinions and choices are as diverse as mainstream New Zealand.

Journalist Portia Mao takes a look at what the Chinese community is saying about the election, and New Zealand's political parties.

National Party

Compared to Labour, the National Party has always enjoyed a higher level of support from the Chinese community. But it was different this election.

Some long-term Chinese voters said they wouldn’t vote National as they thought the party was too focused on making money and developing an economic relationship with China.

Dr Hongzhi Gao, associate professor of marketing and international business at Victoria University, echoed that view: “The National Party is more interested in economic development, and less sensitive about human rights and other political issues related to China.”

One Chinese-New Zealand citizen spoken to was critical of National for being “soulless” when it replaced Jian Yang with Nancy Lu as a new Chinese candidate, as her father is well-known as a pro-Beijing voice in the community. In August, in an interview with Chinese media outlet TV 37, Dr Jian Yang said that he started to train Lu as a National Party candidate without the party being aware of it. 

Yangs words

A transcript of Dr Jian Yang's interview. The highlighted section translates as: "First of all, many people are surprised by Nancy [being the candidate] But in fact I have trained her as a candidate for a long time. I have never revealed it, not even to my colleagues." Translation by Portia Mao.

Lu's selection by the National Party was disappointing to some Chinese voters.

Read More: It's good to have Chinese candidates but Chinese voters vote for policy

Labour Party

Judy, a Chinese woman in her 80s, believed Jacinda Ardern made great achievements in her first three years with the assistance of NZ First’s Winston Peters. She said she belived it would be a challenge for Ardern to govern with Winston and NZ First now out of Parliament.  

Julia, an accounting lecturer from Canterbury University, hoped Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t let down National supporters who strategically gave their party votes to Labour, so that it could govern alone without the Green Party.

 ACT Party

Collins W, a voter from Wellington, said he supported ACT because its leader David Seymour was fighting for freedom of speech and democratic values on issues related to China. He thought it was a great comfort for Chinese immigrants who have come to New Zealand seeking those freedoms.

ACT has never been short of supporters in the Chinese community, and much of that support is down to the profile-raising done by former ACT MP Kenneth Wang more than a decade ago.

ACT’s economic policy, housing policy, and law and order policies are all popular among Chinese voters.

Mr Lin, a businessman, said the party’s policies showed its adherence to the concept of classical liberalism, and he believes ACT was doing far better than any other liberal party worldwide.

Read More: ACT takes Chinese voter support from National

ACT supporters from the Chinese community with newly elected ACT MP James McDowall. Photo by Portia Mao

ACT supporters from the Chinese community with newly elected ACT MP James McDowall. Photo by Portia Mao

Green Party

The younger generation in the Chinese community seems different from their parents when it comes to political choices. A few immigrants said their adult children, often in their early twenties, chose to vote for the Greens. The party may be making gains in the youth vote, but among older Chinese Kiwis support for the Greens remains weak. 

NZ First

Winston Peters is a controversial politician in the Chinese community, mainly because of the perception he does not seem fond of Asian immigrants. However, some Chinese voters will miss him when he is no longer in Parliament. 

 “The longer we live in New Zealand, the more we understand him,” said Chinese businessman Mr Lee.

Judy, a Chinese woman, said that she complained to the Human Rights Commission about Peters some years ago because of his remarks on Asian immigrants. But in recent times, she felt Peters was a politician “with high political wisdom” and helped Jacinda Ardern make great strides over the last three years.

One Chinese political scientist spoken to pointed to Mr Peter’s own speech made on election night.  “For 27 years, there’s been one party that’s been prepared to question the establishment and challenge authority, and tonight more than ever, that force is still needed.”

Comments on New Zealand-China ties

On China-New Zealand relations, Dr Hongzhi Gao said: “On one hand, Jacinda Arden did not hide that New Zealand has political and ideological differences from China, but the Labour-led government still aims to develop stronger economic ties with China.“

“From an economic perspective, National would be more preferred by Beijing. However, ACT leader David Seymour has been very open in criticizing China’s handling of Hong Kong and other sensitive political issues.

Any National-ACT partnership or coalition might not work in Beijing’s favour in that regard.”

Read More: Pre-election Debate: China and New Zealand

Comments on Chinese candidates in New Zealand politics

Auckland Chinese councillor Paul Young criticized the ACT party for placing a Chinese candidate at the bottom of its party list as he felt it showed no respect for the community.

However, not every Chinese voter agrees with him.

One Chinese voter spoken to put it like this : ”No trust should be given to any Chinese MPs as long as the CCP remains as a superpower and maintains influence in the world. It is simply too risky to have them in politics as they are irresistible to that influence unless they make public claims to distance themselves from the CCP.“

Sarah, a driving instructor, claimed it very misleading to assume only a party with a Chinese candidate can be trusted and only Chinese MPs can represent the Chinese community in Parliament.

She says her decision to support a political party is based on the party’s policies, not on a Chinese face. 

Asia Media Centre