Sunday, 29 January 2012

the chinese question

i haven't linked to stuff i've been putting up at the hand mirror lately, so let me rectify that. today i've posted an interview with a female comedian, and raised some issues around that. yesterday i posted about school uniforms and my complete dislike of roman sandals. it turns out that said style of sandals have some adoring fans. who knew? my daughters wishes to let the world know that she absolutely hates them (she doesn't get that from me, honest!). and finally, a post a couple of weeks ago about underlying racism in the criticism of brian tamaki.

i've been meaning to post the last couple of days about the sale of crafar farms to a chinese consortirum. there are a lot of accusations of racism in the reaction to the deals, and denials that the reaction is racist. having read quite a lot from either side, i'm unfortunately not at all clear where i stand.

my initial position is that i don't want nz land to be sold to non-residents. i don't particularly want our key infrastructure companies to be sold off either. i think strategically certain assets should stay in nz ownership. i may not have written about it before, but i would feel particularly annoyed at news stories i'd seen a few years back with shania twain on her nz farm. as part of the whole foreshore and seabed debate, it annoyed me immensely that non-residents could own beachfront properties thereby restricting access to the beaches, but there was such opposition to maori holding such title, particularly when they had historic use of that place.

on the other hand, there is a clash between this position and the hatred i have of nationalism. and so much of the opposition to non-resident ownership is couched in the language of patriotism, about who belongs and who is foreign to this country. is it possible to hate foreign ownership of our strategic assets without hating foreigners? many people say it is, and i'm sure it's possible. but the way the debates happen, the way the arguments are framed don't always make this distinction clear. hence the bad aftertaste, as it were, from reading the various views.

if we are to be citizens of earth before we are citizens of a particular country, then surely it doesn't matter who owns the land? why should we be prosperous at the expense of other countries, and because we participate in international structures and rules that perpetuate inequality?

the answer to these questions is that the people who would be buying our strategic assets will be those who already have a lot of money, and their ownership is highly unlikely to reduce inequality on a global scale or to have any impact on poverty in their own country. the same argument could be made about nz owners though: having the crafar's own that land didn't help inequality in nz or reduce poverty. it likely harmed the country because of their poor standards of animal welfare and their disdain of any kind of responsibility to the environment. so if nz ownership is not benefitting nz'ers, surely it should make no difference if the property is owned foreigners.

there is a difference though, if that land is run ethically and profitably (can we count on the new owners to do that?) but the profits leave nz. it means that wealth is leaving this country that would have been put back into the economy and should improve the economic well-being of the country. again, to me the key question is: where will those profits be going? if for example, they were going to poor chinese people and uplifting the living standards of a large number of people, then i don't see why we should object. especially if those profits aren't achieving the same results in nz. however, in this case, we have no knowledge or guarantee that the profits will be used in such a way, so it's a moot argument.

there's certainly no merit to the argument that the bid from the group including michael fay will be more beneficial to nz. there is nothing in that man's history that could support such a notion, and it's not like he's living here and paying taxes here in order to return some of the wealth he siphoned off from this country.

there does remain the issue that there has been a much larger public outcry regarding the chinese bid, simply because they are chinese. i think it's silly to deny that race is a factor for plenty of people who object to the sale. as i've said above, it's clearly seen in the way the arguments against the sale are presented by many of those who object.

the same level of publicity has not been given to other sales of land to non-residents. but there's an argument to be made that this is as much an issue about what the media choose to report and focus on, than something the public being the initial source of the angst. one of the joys (/sarcsasm) of having mr peters back in parliament is that he will quite happily use this kind of scenario for publicity, and the media generally tend to report it.

on the other hand, the greens have been very vocal in their opposition to china on many fronts - the food labelling issue, the tibet issue and certainly on this one as well. they tend to be pretty vocal on a lot of foreign policy issues though, and have been equally critical of western countries as well. they don't, however, have one of their leaders deliberating sitting on the steps of parliament with a flag and creating a huge media ruckus when it comes to any other country.

in a way, that rankles. though i'm really wary of the argument "if you're going to complain about [x], why aren't you also complaining about [y]" or "[x] is nowhere near as important as [y], why don't you focus on [y]". feminists get that all the time: why are you complaining about being harassed in an elevator when women are getting raped and beaten elsewhere in the world. just because the latter is occurring doesn't mean we should pay no attention whatsoever on the former. and people have limited time and energy to focus on issues. they have a right to choose what's important to them.

having acknowledged that, it still rankles that china is singled out for this kind of protest by the greens. i'm having a hard time unpicking the reasons for it in my own head. i think it's because of context: we're living in a country where people are racist towards chinese and intolerant of asian immigrants. these kinds of actions strengthen the position of the racists. on the other hand, it's not fair to exempt another country from criticism just because there is racism in this country. i'm pretty unhappy with china because of their treatment of the uighurs, but acknowledge that there are a lot of other issues as well.

so, after all of these words, i'm still no clearer on my own position regarding the sale. i'm clear that i'm against contempt of chinese people as individuals, though not against criticism of their government. i'm against arguments that have a strong whiff of western superiority and often a hint of white supremacy. i'd still prefer to see nz ownership of key nz assets, but i want to see all nz'ers benefit from that ownership, not just a select few.

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