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A Proud Moment In Our Mutual History
by Graham Kelly, Member of Parliament
2003/11/18


The 30th anniversary of official China-New Zealand relations is a proud moment in our mutual history.
The Labour Party is especially pleased to celebrate this anniversary while being in Government.
It was one of the first acts of the new 1972 Labour Government to officially recognise China, putting New Zealand at the forefront of the international community in welcoming the People's Republic of China to the world stage.
China and the New Zealand Left have a long and rewarding history that goes back many years before 1972. We have always supported the efforts of the Chinese people, particularly working people, to improve their lot.
In this, Chinese and New Zealanders have much in common. We share the values of hard work, education and social justice. In recent years, both countries have experienced tumultuous times as we make major adjustments to our economies, facing the realities of internal restructuring and global markets.
And although the huge disparity in our sizes is obvious, it is this very difference that has made the relationship one of complimentary strength.
We are inspired by the breadth and depth of Chinese history and culture, while New Zealand's reputation in the international arena as independent "honest brokers" makes us a useful friend for China in the increasingly complex world of diplomatic relations.
From the early days of colonial settlement in New Zealand, our relationship has been strengthened by immigration from China. In the gold rushes of the 1860s and 70s Chinese traders arrived to support the miners coming from California and Australia, and many stayed to work in our emerging towns and cities.
In the 1920s and 30s it was the turn of many New Zealanders to visit China in the years of rapid social change. One man, the writer and teacher Rewi Alley, stayed on through the difficult years, and we on the Left are particularly proud of this man's work in China.
From the 1970s increasing numbers of New Zealanders have visited China and studied and taught in universities there, including New Zealand-Chinese keen to investigate the land of their ancestors.
Over the last decade increasing numbers of Chinese students have arrived here for short, intensive periods of English-language study. In fact, this growth has been phenomenal.
Since the Chinese Government adopted a more open student visa policy, Chinese students numbers in New Zealand have grown from 400 in 1998 to current levels of around 20,000.
International education has grown to be a $1 billion industry, with most of these students coming from Asia. New Zealand is seen as a clean, safe country with a strong commitment to educational values. We are determined to maintain standards and quality to cater for the rapidly increasing numbers.
For an economy the size of New Zealand's, this new industry is a tremendous boon. Another plus is that it brings Chinese students into contact with New Zealand families, through the system of homestays, furthering cross-cultural understanding, and forming ties for the future.
Some of the students who study here, and stay on for university training and work experience, apply to settle in New Zealand. They already have a good knowledge of New Zealand, settle in and find employment, and make a significant contribution to the growth and prosperity of our country. They also have language skills and links to their country of origin that promote trading opportunities.
Chinese are now one of the largest groups of new migrants to New Zealand, with around 9,000 meeting the immigration criteria last year. One in fifteen New Zealanders are now of Asian descent, and one in three claim a reasonable or high level of involvement with Asian people and cultures.
From the 1980s, a number of successful sister-city relationships have been formed. For example, the Hastings-Guilin association involved a highly relevant dialogue about kiwifruit (developed from the "Chinese gooseberry" which was imported to New Zealand).
A recent survey of public opinion found that Asia is now recognised by New Zealanders as being the region of most importance to our future, ahead of Europe and North America. This is an incredible shift from two or three decades ago when our ties were still firmly linked to Britain.
China is now our sixth largest trading partner, based largely on the export of wool, fish, agricultural expertise, forestry, and construction services. This reflects both the shift in our thinking and the remarkable economic transition in China - which has been described by our Minister of Foreign Affairs as without parallel in world history.
I have personally witnessed this transition of China's from being a centrally planned state to one of the world's fastest growing, outwardly orientated, market economies. In 1994 I led a New Zealand Labour Party delegation in China (one of the highlights was a visit to the Rewi Alley memorial), and earlier this year, at the invitation of the Chinese Government, as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, I led a parliamentary delegation to Shanghai, Beijing and Tibet.
I was blown away by the changes I saw. China is becoming a vibrant, modern economy. The problems of pollution associated with rapid development are being effectively dealt with, and the standard of living of ordinary Chinese has risen. In Shanghai, I recall watching a young man at a bus stop  in a very smart suit talking on his cellphone while standing next to a man carrying panniers on a bamboo pole. The old and the new China gave every appearance of finding a new harmony.
On that visit we had a number of full and frank discussions with our Chinese counterparts. To use a Chinese expression, friends can discuss anything - and we did. From trade to climate change, from human rights to disarmament. This is a reflection of the maturity and depth of our relationship.
Prior to this visit, New Zealand had had the honour of supporting China as a new member of the World Trade Organisation. I was at the 2001 Doha meeting which endorsed this recommendation, and this is an example of the role we can play in supporting China in the international community.
We are too small and young a country to carry much baggage relating to the "old boy network" in the international community. Yet we maintain good relations with all players. We are not seen as having vested interests, but rather as being straight-talking and fair.
It is this kind of openness and mutual respect that we value in our relationship with China. The past thirty years of official ties have laid the groundwork for a long and rewarding partnership. Along with the Labour Party and all my parliamentary colleagues,  I look forward to its future with great optimism.

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