[lg policy] New Zealand: Does the government have a China strategy, sceptical question mark?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jul 12 13:58:46 UTC 2010

Does the government have a China strategy, sceptical question mark?
Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 5:27 pm

To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

- Confucius. Analects: I

Guyon Espiner interviewed John Key at the World Expo in Shanghai this
weekend and this exchange jumped out at me:

JOHN Well interestingly enough, if you have a look last year, this is
the first year in New Zealand that more students in New Zealand
started learning Mandarin than Latin. And I think what that shows you
is we’ve been a little bit slow actually to recognise that power base
that’s changing. There will be no question a lot more New Zealanders
will start studying in China, coming to China.

GUYON It’s interesting that you brought that up actually, because
we’ve got something like over two and a half thousand schools in New
Zealand, I’m told 89 of them teach Mandarin or Chinese. I mean that’s
woeful isn’t it?

JOHN Totally, and if you think about the number of students coming to
study here in China, it’s quite small.

GUYON So what are you going to do about that?

JOHN You raise an interesting point which is, it’s one thing to have
an FTA, I think it’s quite a different thing to have a China strategy.
And why would you want to have a China strategy? Well you’re not going
to double two way trade from 10 billion to 20 billion, crossing your
fingers and hoping it might happen. I think you’ve actually gotta sit
back and say what are the component parts, what’s does it take, and
it’s unquestionably people …

GUYON We can’t understand these people if we can’t understand them
literally can we? So what are you going to do about the fact that we
have by your own admission, a woeful level of tuition in Mandarin and
Cantonese and Chinese languages in New Zealand schools? Are you going
to make it compulsory to learn Chinese?

JOHN I don’t think we’ll make it compulsory, but I do think we should
start talking much more actively about thinking about what are the
skills that we will need.

It’s so predictable isn’t it? Everyone agrees that doing business with
China is vital to the future of our economy. Are we bothering to teach
young New Zealanders to speak Chinese? Of course not. Bit of number 8
fencing wire and everything’ll be right.

It’s not just National’s fault. It’s all so obvious it should have
been implemented years ago under Labour, and Key seemed excited by the
idea – you could see the wheels turning in his mind as he discussed it
with Espiner -  so we may get a Chinese language policy out of the
government at some stage. Naturally we are already behind Australia in
this: Kevin Rudd rolled out a nationwide school-based Chinese language
program in 2008.

Insights like this fill me with dread: it makes me wonder what other
obvious strategic challenges New Zealand is oblivious to as we
sleepwalk into the Asian Century.

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