Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chinese community feels left out of constitutional review

A Chinese community leader and commentator says the local Chinese community feels left out of the current Constitutional review debate, and continued sidelining of the group will disadvantage New Zealand in the future.

Steven Young, the immediate past-President of the New Zealand Chinese Association, said there was a lack of response from the government to engage the Chinese in the debate which has so far been confined only to the politicians, academics and others with vested interests.

Chinese Kiwis feel under-represented on treaty issues, according to the Wellington-based consulting engineer.

While the government has advanced on treaty issues in the last 30 years it has had little time to think about the country’s relationship with those who are not directly party to the treaty – the ethnic communities, said Young, who came to New Zealand from China at a very young age.

“Visibly-different migrants usually have stronger cultural needs and aspirations which they would like to maintain, express and develop, while learning to also be loyal New Zealanders. However, they feel left out of the Constitutional debate – which is what the development of the treaty relationship is. The official view that such migrants are represented by the Crown in the treaty debate is a kind official deafness to the needs of the multicultural sector and the Chinese who make up a large proportion of that sector. This lack of an official response could disadvantage New Zealand in the longer term.”

Ethnic communities form a significant part of a multicultural New Zealand. There are close to 150,000 Chinese living here.

In the light of the coming general election, Young hopes the new government will do something and actively encourage and facilitate participation from the Chinese.

“This would include explaining and defining the current Constitutional situation and exploring alternatives. The debate should be brought down to street level. Full participation will help define what kind of society New Zealand should be in the 21st century and beyond,” said Young.

When asked to comment on the difference in approach between old Chinese politicians such as former Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin and Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon, and new Chinese immigrants standing for election, Young said Chin and Foon had been around long enough to understand local issues and to resolve local problems; they had earned the confidence of the locals.

On the other hand, Young noted Chinese immigrants entering politics were usually “shoulder-tapped by political parties looking for a token Chinese to ‘represent’ a potential constituency”.

With barely 10 years of residency in New Zealand and lacking a track record of working with the minorities, “they are parachuted into list seats without a great deal of political experience or a power base of their own.

“At best they can only act as salesmen for their parties to an ethnic sector. We would expect that such candidates once elected will advocate ethnic ‘motherhood and apple-pie’ positions for their communities,” said Young, adding that he expected the pattern to continue in future elections until such time when the Chinese community “is able to fully participate in mainstream parties over a period of years and in sufficient numbers to influence the development of policies”.

Young does not see any political party gaining a majority of Chinese votes on Nov 26.

He said the Chinese had in the past supported Labour because of “its history of looking after the underdog by word and by deed... However for both old and new migrants, their cultural history, personal drive and economic positioning has increasingly placed them somewhat more to the right on the political spectrum.

“If people vote in accordance with their beliefs and interests, then no party can expect a majority of Chinese support”.

Interview by Yuanyong Yang
Written by Kwan Kwan Lim

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