Thursday 8 May 2014

Different Address: Mai Chen Assesses Auckland's Future

Mother Of Dragons: Public law specialist, Mai Chen, argues that "Auckland is now the leader and its fast-growing and multicultural population has to be addressed differently from other parts of the country." Could this lead to New Zealand's largest city becoming a Chinese financial enclave and entrepot dominated by local agents of the vast (and globally expanding) Chinese diaspora?

BY 2040 AUCKLAND’S POPULATION is projected to reach 2.5 million – with half of that number being first generation immigrants. Billions of investment dollars will accompany these new residents, conferring upon them a disproportionate amount of national power and influence. From whatever perspective it is viewed: economic, cultural or political; New Zealand’s future development seems certain to be seriously, and quite possibly dangerously, distorted.
Public law specialist and author of Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council , Mai Chen, seems less concerned about the possible consequences for New Zealand of having so much of its population and economic wealth concentrated in a single city than she does with ensuring the tax dollars of her fellow citizens keeping flowing north:
Auckland cannot fund its infrastructure, despite its wealth, without Central Government … We need them … Aucklanders just want to get on with it.”
Perhaps, as a Chinese-New Zealander and a former member of the Asia-NZ Foundation, Ms Chen is simply bedazzled by the prospect of Auckland’s future becoming inextricably interwoven with the burgeoning Chinese economy. In the course of a recent newspaper interview, for example, she warned New Zealand’s decision-makers:
“The bureaucrats and officials in the capital have to start understanding Auckland’s problems and the importance of its rich human and social capital, as well as its economic impact ….. Auckland is now the leader and its fast-growing and multicultural population has to be addressed differently from other parts of the country.”
This statement, when unpacked, contains a rather ominous message for the rest of New Zealand.
Essentially, what Ms Chen is saying is that the city of Auckland’s population, made up increasingly of people who were born somewhere else (the explanation, presumably, for the richness of its human and social capital) and whose economic and cultural lives are increasingly disconnected from those of non-Auckland citizens, should, accordingly, be “addressed differently” from other New Zealanders.
Hmmm? For many decades now Auckland has boasted a “fast-growing and multicultural population”, and yet very few public law specialists over that time felt brave enough to argue that the thousands of unskilled labourers imported from the Pacific islands (also “rich” in human and social capital) should be “addressed differently” from Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders.
Could there be a further sub-text hidden within Ms Chen’s demand that Auckland be afforded special treatment by Central Government? Could she also be referencing the fact that within the city’s fast-growing and multicultural population there is an ethnic group that stands out from all the others? A group whose homeland constitutes New Zealand’s largest single trading partner? A group whose investment in the Auckland (as well as the wider New Zealand) economy is rising dramatically? A group whose cultural and financial networks are more than equal to the challenge of transforming Auckland into an outwardly focussed and essentially Asian city?
Could it be that Ms Chen is telling us that Auckland must be treated differently from the rest of New Zealand because the fastest growing segment of its population hails from China? Is she trying to persuade us that Auckland’s fate, like that of so many other cities in the Asia-Pacific region over the centuries, is to become a Chinese financial enclave and entrepot dominated by local agents of the vast (and globally expanding) Chinese diaspora?
Surely, as a public law specialist, Ms Chen must know that according special recognition to a non-indigenous ethnic group would immediately raise a plethora of fundamental constitutional problems. One has only to think of the enormous constitutional, political and cultural difficulties that have arisen from successive Governments’ attempts to honour the promises made to tangata whenua in the Treaty of Waitangi to get some inkling of the outcry that would accompany any proposal to address Chinese-New Zealanders “differently”.
Not that New Zealanders living in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries raised many objections to the very different treatment then meted out to Chinese immigrants by politicians of every ideological hue.  A century ago, anti-Chinese prejudice was as rife in New Zealand as it was in Australia. Immigration from China was restricted to males who could not vote, were required to pay special taxes and denied the right to send for their wives and families. So great was the fear of being “swamped” by the “Yellow Peril” that negative discrimination against the Chinese was not only applauded – it was demanded.
Such prejudice may have been buried by twenty-first century politicians, but only in a very shallow grave. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that Ms Chen anticipates anything so problematic as a positively-framed de jure recognition of China’s special interests in New Zealand. Indeed, the only message readers of her book should take away is the very high probability that Central Government will eventually have no option but to grant an Auckland economy increasingly dependent on the inflow of both Chinese immigrants and Chinese capital de facto special status.
After all, it was no lesser luminary that the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, onetime National Deputy-Prime Minister, and current Chairman of the New Zealand China Council, Sir Don McKinnon, who warmly greeted “New Zealand’s China Century”:
“China is our largest trading partner, our fastest growing source of tourists, our largest source of overseas students, and our greatest source of net migration … Our prosperity, our social cohesiveness, our sense of who we are as a nation is increasingly dependent on how well we integrate this new Chinese dimension into New Zealand’s economic and cultural life.”
If you want to know what that means, just ask Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 7 May 2014.


jh said...

I heard Mai Chen on The Panel praising Vancouver and (it) being 51% Asian in one breath.
I wondered if people who (appear to) sing the praises of immigration of their own ethnicity aren't being racist in wanting to dilute what is around them?

Vancouver has a port dispute which some are blaming on too successful undercutting of truckers by SE Asians (Sikh) who (now) can't make a living.

jh said...

“China is our largest trading partner, our fastest growing source of tourists, ”
our greatest source of tourist bus drivers. That didn't happen with the Japanese, for a long time the Japanese paid top dollar, a Kiwi drove the bus and a Japanese speaker talked. Rates are being driven into the ground English speaking Kiwis are being driven out.

The Flying Tortoise said...

New Zealand will not be New Zealand in 2040 and I'm glad I won't be around to see it...

TM said...

While mainland Chinese speculation and business practices are an issue, I think way too much is being read into an article by a public policy law specialist who has a relatively new office in Auckland. And it seems just because she is Chinese. Countless Auckland MPs and Councillors have said the same thing.

jh said...

So far the benefits of immigration aren't looking good:
Migration and Macroeconomic
Performance in New Zealand:
Theory and Evidence
Julie Fry
New Zealand Treasury Working Paper 14/10

But Heh! you don't like that? Just get The NZIER to validate a learned contrary opinion; the media will be too rewarded or too cowed to risk seeming racist or xenophobic. One set of opinions makes radio NZ/TV one doesn't.

We know well the image of the Chinese miner on the goldfields but what if the boot was on the other foot: the Japanese WW2? Genghis Khan?

TM said...

The culture of the tangata whenua has been diluted by the whiteys, but now there is panic that the colonial immigrant culture will be diluted by asians. It is another case of those with the power trying to protect their patch and being terrified of change - let us fight to preserve our capitalist white older male dominated society!

That Winston guy speaks the truth - he just says what everyone is thinking!

Embrace change, embrace revolution and renewal. But hold fast to your values.

Michael Herman said...

Chris, does his mean that on this issue Winston has been right all along?

jh said...

TM said...
The culture of the tangata whenua has been diluted by the whiteys, but now there is panic that the colonial immigrant culture will be diluted by asians.
Surveys show Maori are more concerned than anyone else.
It is another case of those with the power trying to protect their patch and being terrified of change - let us fight to preserve our capitalist white older male dominated society!
What will NZ's job description be? Do nations need large populations any more? Will we be another Singapore (Singapore's leaders are calling for more immigration to stimulate the economy,reduce wages). What about the quality of life? What sort of dense living will eventuate: new urbanism for the wealthy, boxes for the poor (in Toronto they are building Alley houses)? What about community cohesion?
When will dreamy progressives of the internationalist tradition recognise that the other are (also) competition for resources and those at the base of the pyramid feel it first.

jh said...

Funny how we have this meme of enrichment (through diversity) and on the other hand (some years ago) in The Press a Chinese leader called NZ "the last paradise". How could it be "the last paradise" and benefit by mass migration from crowded places?
Hans Christen Andersen understood the diversity meme in the present context.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It doesn't matter where they're from – we're just filling the damned country up. Not the New Zealand I want.

Victor said...

I don’t think we should assume Ms Chen thinks things that she hasn’t said.

But, I agree, there can be a considerable and worrying disconnect between quintessential Chinese and quintessential western attitudes to law, authority and public responsibility. This is becoming all the more apparent as Chinese commercial clout makes itself felt.

Anecdotally, I’ve also come across a tendency amongst some recent ethnic Chinese immigrants to view New Zealand law, customs and expectations with what certainly seems like contempt.

Equally, though, I’m struck daily by the very many Chinese immigrants (including those from the PRC) who do not seem to share such attitudes and who are reacting extremely positively to what must be a very alien environment to them.

And, of course, behind all these concerns is the reality of living in a Chinese dominated part of the planet, at a time when an increasingly nationalistic China is seeking to shrug off a couple of centuries of unwanted and unloved western dominance.

Today’s news of clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels off the Paracels is but the latest reason to doubt the wisdom of Helen Clark’s nostrum of us living in a benign strategic zone.

Even so, I think there are good reasons for government treating Auckland somewhat differently to the rest of then country.

Partly, it’s just a matter of size. But it’s also a matter of its higgledy-piggledy growth and the shifting balance between centre and suburbs.

And, clearly, it’s also a matter of Auckland’s hyper-multi-ethnic population, which, in some respects, needs a different range of services to longer-settled communities.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for transport, health and education policies, for example, to reflect the needs and expectations of the 40% of Aucklanders born overseas, as well as of the 60% who weren’t.

Moreover, if this does cost a bit more, it’s still an investment in all of our futures. The alternative might be an even more chronically divided society.

I accept that this sort of provision was not made for the Pasifika immigrants of yesteryear. But I really don’t see how two wrongs can make a right.

Moreover,I don't think there's a single person in New Zealand who truly benefits from the country's largest city and commercial hub having a risibly inadequate transport system.

Anonymous said...

When do people GET it ? That they are treated like nothing but "idiots", that are convenient from election to election, to serve the crowd on top at the time, to do nothing really for the advancement of their own country?

It is always the same, manipulation of the common folk, the selling out of this that and the other, and the arrogance of politicians, who think they know best, what this country supposedly needs.

I fear that most NZers have been turned into mental idiots, brainwashed 24/7 by commercial media as to what to buy, use, and even who to vote for. We have an "elite" doing deals with foreign, Chinese magnates, and we are also told to shut up and trust Key and his lot. We are treated like IDIOTS, to put it mildly.

It is time to regain control of our minds, brains and own physical independence, and we must not let economic interests dictate to us, that we must oblige to foreign dominance just to pay the bills. That is slavery, and instead of being slaves, we better be DEAD in that case.

No, it is time for us to wake up, stand up and say, we want to be masters of OUR country and future!

jh said...

so Victor Aucklands population is going to rise (like Edmonds baking powder) and Ms Chen says Auckland can't afford to pay for the infrastructure. It begs the question: why?

The answer is that population increase is government policy; which begs the question: why?

The NZIER comes out regularily calling for a larger population; oh well they're bright boys - except that Based on a large body of new research evidence and practical experience, the consensus
among policymakers now is that other factors are more important for per capita growth
and productivity than migration and population growth. CGE modelling exercises for
Australia and New Zealand have been influential in reshaping expectations.
[New Zealand Treasury Working Paper 14/10].

So (maybe) the NZIER are shills in the information wars?

Finally, as the sector gets larger, it gains in lobbying/political strength and can
lobby for immigration regardless if it is the best interests of the economy as a whole. This
could be seen in Canada where the development industry has lobbied hard for high sustained
immigration levels (Ley and Tutchener 2001).

Dr Greg Clydesdale Growing Pains

The construction industry has grown by 10,000 firms since 2002, a new Government report shows, but still lacks capacity to deal with the massive demand of the Christchurch rebuild and the Auckland housing boom.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said that the construction sector now employed 7 per cent of the New Zealand workforce - around 170,000 people - and generated annual revenues of $30 billion.
He said that the industry was experiencing unprecedented growth, driven by the Christchurch rebuild and demand for housing in Auckland.
The report showed that despite the global financial crisis and an associated downturn in construction, the construction workforce grew by 30 per cent in the last decade.
It also identified challenges faced by the sector - low productivity, the aftermath of the leaky building fiasco, and the vulnerability of the industry to boom and bust cycles.

I believe Dr Clydesdale was ejected from Massey for being found in possession of a knapsack of white privelege?

Victor said...


The fact is that Auckland's population has already risen and, by the standards of other cities of comparable size, it is shockingly lacking in infrastucture and transport facilities.

What's more it was similarly (or even more)lacking even before the current wave of immigration.

That's not a situation that can be wished away, any more than the existing immigrant population can be wished away.

Yes, I agree that there's a powerful lobby in favour of further inflating Auckland's population and a similar lobby in favour of increased immigration.

But, whether or not immigration is to be increased or curtailed, I see no purpose in denying the challenges involved in turning Auckland into less of an urban planning basket case.

And, along with the downsides, we might just discover that a more diverse population brings some advantages (e.g. a culture-related reduction in reliance on private cars).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

LOL we're going to have to VERY carefully chose our immigrants from countries where they don't have an ambition to drive round in a large Mercedes then :-). That's the Chinese/Russians and most of Africa/South America and the USA out.

Robert M said...

It is interesting to reflect is what is the real reason for us abandoning our traditional and logical allies US, Australia and Japan ( at least in the medium term) for the far less sophisticated and different Chinese dictatorship- a nation with little in common to us and at least 25 years before the most advanced nations USA, Sweden, Japan and Russia in key technological areas particularly those related the military, marine and avionics issues.
Two main things drive NZ Policy here, the myth and oldfashioned ideas of the left in NZ, which have never changed since the 1930s of China as the future and of developing Auckland in housing blocks alongside electrified rail. Obviously for some other society than NZ in any of present or past incarnations.
The second thing is that developing the milk trade with China is an easy option politically as it enables NZ and Auckland to continue as a cargo cult society in which incomes and job have almost no relationship with to productivity and efficiency or the need anywhere else in the world to recruit on the basis of intelligence, efficiency and beauty which is what sells and drives the motor of the world. NZ economic base has increasingly narrowed to milk and gas with the tourist and mining industries increasingly in decline. Outside of dairy and its increasing survival and development on the basis of destroying environmental sustainability and increasingly shody and probably short terms deals with China the economy is increasingly narrowed to the internal tourist market and Australia.
A key factor also is that the Mfat diplomats have been leaning toward Asia and the European third way for the last 50 years.
The real point is the world has changed in the last year. Russia has become increasingly hostile to the US, whose relations with China has also deteriorated. Australia now has an intelligent and strong right wing government at least term of its Cabinet, Executive and PM more than likely the Obama administration will be the last social democrat post war US administration as Jeb and Condi are quite likely with Hillary and Brown too old.
Collins would just be punch and judy and a more Conservative version of feminist Clark, from the same place and with same obsessions.
Mai of course does concern me as she is a very militant Vic socialist. I remember her being interview on National Radio a couple of years ago- and talking about the increasing anger of the Chinese Community and the suggestion that in combination with the Treaty Partners they would shortly demand a much greater stand. An alliance between Mai and Annette Sykes at the top table possibly.

Victor said...


I think you'll find immigrants are reasonably heavily represented amongst the passengers of Auckland's public transport.

Moreover, many of those I come across are a bit mesmerised by the need to drive everywhere. For many of them, I strongly suspect, driving is a matter of "when in Rome".

Scouser said...

Sorry I seem to be lost

We appear to be on a Winston First 'smack the slopes' web site.

Jigsaw said...

Promises made to Maori in the Treaty of Waitangi-apart from equality before the law along with everyone else what were they? The treaty - not the distortions dreamed up in the last 30 years or so.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Scouser.

I find it interesting that, in a discussion about immigration, the future of Auckland and New Zealand's relationship with China generally, the only person to employ a derogatory racial epithet is yourself.

The enforced silence on these issues - from both the Right and the Left - is profoundly anti-democratic.

Someone once told me that if you want to know who really rules you, then look for the subject matter that cannot be debated or even discussed. That will give you a hint.

Nuff said.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw I'm not sure about the intent of your last post, but here is one of the promises "full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession." Honoured more in the breach than the observance it seems to me. Particularly after 1865.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Robert, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the Chinese government as unsophisticated. They have tended to run rings round the Americans, as I might say have the Iranians :-). And they are one of the few governments to think in terms of 50 or 100 years rather than until the next election. They do rather have an advantage in that but even so.

I also think that 25 years might be just a bit of an exaggeration, particularly in the military and aviation spheres.

Mai Chen a socialist? You must be kidding. Just because she is partnered with an ex- labour Cabinet Minister, who was himself by no means Socialist I might say :-).

There are still large swaths of your post I can't understand however.

Victor said...


I agree with you that issues of money and power need addressing openly. Concerns over population density likewise, even though I don’t happen to share them.

I also think there’s an urgent need to address the consequences for New Zealand of the current massive change in the global balance of power and influence. We may yet live to rue the deafening official silence on this issue.

But I retain some discomfort at your suggestion that Mai Chen’s ethnicity means that she might hold views that she has not, to the best of my knowledge, expressed. Is this not a form of ethnic profiling?

Might I also ask how you would like it if I were to suggest that you probably hold certain views (that you might not in fact hold) on no basis other than you being a South Islander of Scots Presbyterian lineage?

Yes, I know that Ms Chen is no shrinking violet and will doubtless survive your conjectures. Even so, I think they mar an otherwise interesting piece on an important cluster of concerns.

Jigsaw said...

I absolutely agree Chris and the two topics that the voters of New Zealand have been given virtually no say in whatsoever are immigration and the Treaty. On both subjects the main parties have been in tacit aggreement that they shall not be part of the electoral process.

Scouser said...

To Chris

you miss the point - it was ironic - the underlying racism of this thread is quite impressive - and as such would not be amiss in a Winnie 1st press release.

I find it enlightening you completely missed the irony.

Chris Trotter said...

Less "irony" and more engagement with the issues please, Scouser. Or do you restrict yourself to heckling from the side-lines?

Scouser said...

To Chris

I agree I was heckling as I was highly irritated by the tenor but to address some of the issues:

NZ is highly urbanised in general, more than the UK, less than OZ for instance. It's also has a high %age of that population in one city but by no means exceptional.

In terms of net immigration we're about middle of the pack for the predominantly well off countries who have net immigration but well under Australia, US, Canada and even less than the UK. The average Brit would love our immigration mix by the way.

So, all in all, we don't exactly have an unusual situation but urbanisation and concentration is an ongoing issue and does need DIFFERENT treatment than a smaller provincial town for instance. Nothing scary there.

Using central government funds on Auckland. Auckland is historically a net contributor and more is spent on the provinces per capita - so of course, central government funds need to get spent on Auckland as is spent on every part of NZ. This is not tax $ flowing North, it’s some of the tax $'s not flowing South.

The general premise of SPECIAL treatment for any group or location is, I agree, anathema. However, I believe you’re drawing a very long and either racist or rather paranoid bow to jump to some nefarious aim to turn Auckland in to a province of China. Historically, around the world, Chinese have been the immigrants least likely to demand special treatment and often have struggled to receive equal treatment.

One issue I do have with the mix of Chinese immigrants is that, anecdotally, we don't get the same overall quality as from other countries as the greater corruption there enables gaming of our immigration process.

Are we going to be greater influenced by China? Of course, and personally I see this as advantageous to us as it lets us balance the US influence. Many are scared of this as NZ is still fundamentally an Anglo Saxon country with a side order of Polynesian. We’re comfortable with that and uncomfortable with change. It doesn’t help that they look and sound different.

You do spin a good conspiracy theory, though.

Victor said...


".....the two topics that the voters of New Zealand have been given virtually no say in whatsoever are immigration and the Treaty."

This is simply not so. New Zealand First has contested every general election for the past two decades and these issues have been close to the top of its declared agenda.

There has been no law preventing New Zealanders from voting for this party.

Jigsaw said...

Victor-that is certainly so but for New Zealand First the Treaty part always simply vanishes once the lection is over!

Jigsaw said...

es NZ First can hardly be described a s mainstream party....

Victor said...


"NZ First can hardly be described a s mainstream party..."

True. But, under MMP, it would rapidly become so, if New Zealanders in sufficient numbers wanted its bill of goods with sufficient passion.

Obviously, our political system is not a level playing field between large parties and small. Moreover, the machinations of the media also need to be factored in.

Even so, NZ First has so far remained a minnow in terms of electoral support, certainly much bigger than the likes of Act and United Future but considerably smaller than the Greens.

jh said...

Most of the words examined in this volume have a common trajectory – they began their lives as academic terms and then morphed into empty slogans. In this context, superdiversity makes an interesting case study as a word that was used as a slogan almost from the start. Coined by a scholar of migration Vertovec (2007) to refer to ‘diversification of diversity’ of migrants in
the UK, the term has soon expanded its meaning and crossed disciplinary boundaries. In the span
of five years, between 2011 and 2016, sociolinguists witnessed the appearance of two (!) books,
one special journal issue, one conference and several research projects all bearing the same title
Language(s) and superdiversity(ies). Other titles are not far behind, sporting permutations and
collocations of superdiversity and the terms linguistic and sociolinguistics (see Table 1). This
uniformity of the message is a distinguishing feature of marketing campaigns and suggests that
the rise of superdiversity is a result of concerted strategic efforts, known as academic branding.'t_Reflections_on_terminological_innovations_and_academic_branding

jh said...

and further:
I do not question the usefulness of superdiversity for migration studies, nor deny the
reality of the new migration. I am a new migrant as a matter of fact. Having fled the Soviet
Union on the verge of its collapse, I celebrated my son’s first birthday in a refugee settlement in Torvaianica, Italy. And I should have been thrilled to see that Western sociolinguists are interested in studying, ‘legitimizing’ and, dare I say, celebrating the migrant experience. But instead of running out to get a badge Je suis superdiversity, I feel uneasy about affective rhetoric better suited for advertising than academia (radical changes, tremendous increases, hugely complex linguistic practices) and the process that transformed a newly coined word into ‘a fact on the ground’ and an academic brand. The purpose of this chapter is to articulate the reasons for this unease. I will begin with an overview of processing features that differentiate academic slogans from bona fide academic terms. Next, I will examine branding strategies that made superdiversity a recognizable name in sociolinguistics. Then, I will consider the many meanings of superdiversity and argue that referential indeterminacy renders it impervious to critique of Eurocentric biases and ahistoric premises and makes the new slogan an extremely valuable tool for branding and creation of a new academic hierarchy and new elite.